Leadership in uncertain times

I’ve been thinking about leadership quite a bit in the last several weeks. We see examples of good and not-so-good leadership every time we tune into the news, even when we may disagree with one another about which political leaders fall into those categories.

More immediately, we see examples of leadership and have opportunities each and every day to be leaders among our colleagues, our communities, our families, and perhaps other audiences. You may find an opportunity to lead a team of colleagues by, for example, setting up a weekly luncheon via Zoom. Perhaps you’re called to help your clients identify and navigate the obstacles and opportunities that come from today’s unsettled health and financial circumstances. Or you might identify ways to rally your community around medical and first responders or to help schools continue educating students even though classes have been adjourned. When you have a vision, regardless of whether that comes with a title, you have a chance to make a difference by serving as a leader.

Much will be written in the coming weeks and months about leadership lessons from these unprecedented times. In the meantime, a few points for your consideration:

  1. “Leadership is action, not position.” This quote from Donald H. McGannon implicitly recognizes two truths.

    First, leadership isn’t a natural result of occupying a titled leadership role. True leadership (as opposed to titular leadership) requires action directed toward some objective. Those who are named as leaders may or may not be able to function accordingly.

    Second, you can be a leader without holding a leadership title. Whether there’s a leadership vacuum or whether you simply identify a leadership opportunity, you can step up even if you’re not named as a leader.

  2. Leadership requires authenticity. While it may be tempting to act as if everything is going to be fine even when that isn’t at all certain, those who look to you as leader will likely have an exquisite sense of whether you believe what you’re saying. When times are uncertain, authenticity often requires an acknowledgement of that uncertainty rather than a chest-beating positivity.
  3. Leadership requires emotional intelligence. Be tuned into your own emotions and those that your team is experiencing. Good leaders are able to share empathy without falling into any overwhelming emotions the team may be experiencing.
  4. Leadership requires a focus on an objective. Whether the objective is to beat COVID-19, to ensure that clients continue to receive highly skilled and timely legal services, or to build a cohesive team that’s working from multiple remote locations for the first time, identifying the objective allows the team to organize around it and unite to achieve a goal.
  5. Leadership requires an emphasis on “we,” not “me.” While a leader (with or without title) is going to be in the spotlight, the most effective leaders focus on a combination of objective and team. Your team (colleagues, clients, community members, family members) will be working to meet the objective, and setting the emphasis on how “we” are uniting to meet our objective will almost certainly be more effective than how the team can work to implement the leader’s objective and decisions.

One advantage we have today that’s critical for leadership in today’s “stay home” atmosphere is technology. Consider how you can use Zoom or another video platform to enable face-to-face meetings so you can get a read on your team’s temperature. Think about using a group text to share developments and accomplishments. And if your firm has platforms that are already in use, be sure to take advantage of those so that what happens away from the office is recorded and referred to when these extraordinary times have passed.

What leadership (or other) questions do you have about navigating these times? Leave a comment and let me know. I may respond to you directly, or I may share my response in a future blog post.

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