GUEST ARTICLE: Disrupted Leadership

5 Questions Boards Should Ask in the Pandemic Environment

By Tim McNamara, K.D., Odgers Berndtson

Now is the time for boards and senior leaders to consider how leadership will be defined in a professional environment where COVID-19 is the backdrop.

In the current pandemic and in a post-peak COVID-19 world, boards and senior management are being required to reassess the strength of their teams to address the impact of this and future potential crises, be they biological, nuclear or other events. Below, leaders across a range of industries shed some interesting perspectives on the challenges and opportunities we face in this new world.

The New Professional Environment – Work and Home

Leading in a crisis environment requires vastly different skill sets and teams, including communications and decision styles, to make certain that often geographically diverse groups can be highly motivated in ensuring business continuity and long-term success. In partnering with multiple current clients, the internal decision practices around hiring have been so protracted that what would normally be accomplished in a few weeks is taking months and critical hiring decisions stall. Leaders must also keep in mind that at a time when employees are worried about their family’s health and economic future, their priorities unsurprisingly turn inward.

Susan C. Keating, CEO of WomenCorporateDirectors, shares: “With concerns reaching far beyond immediate bottom-line calculations, organizations need directors who can bring a 360-degree view of issues to these discussions – who consider with empathy, nuance and balance in order to protect the long-term viability of the business and the safety of their people.”

It is also the time to create new processes for evaluating additions to the management team in assessing temperament, skills and decision styles in reacting to and leading in a crisis scenario all while, potentially, being socially isolated. Knowing your people, understanding their drivers, leveraging the board and pivoting into a new communications style is a good start, and so is knowing the answers to these questions:

What impact is social isolation having on our business and people?

Social distancing, technically defined as isolation, has caused significant mental health issues in the population across the globe. Depression, dementia, social anxiety and low self-esteem are just a few results of the current “normal.” We are social by nature and isolation is physically bad for the human race. A good paper on this issue is Michael Bond’s article, “How Extreme Isolation Warps the Mind,” in BBC Future of May 13, 2014. Bond related that some experiences with psychological experiments on the effects of isolation and sensory deprivation had to be called off due to the extreme and bizarre reactions of those involved. Chronically he noted that lonely people have higher blood pressure, are even more vulnerable to infection, and are also more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. “We all want to be alone from time to time, to escape the demands of our colleagues or the hassle of crowds. But not alone alone. For most people, prolonged social isolation is all bad, particularly mentally.”

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