Crisis Management: Identifying Effective Leadership Competencies During the COVID-19 Pandemic
By Nkem Onyegbula
In today’s global market, organizations continue to face several business challenges from changes ranging from economic downsizing, the drop in oil and gas prices, climate change, globalization, continuously changing technology to stringent cross-border policies. However, nothing has been more challenging than the impact of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, which will and has affected every sector and dimension of humankind.
Research conducted by Sunnie Giles (2016) across 195 leaders in 15 countries found that the top 10 leadership competencies are vital priorities for leadership development programs (LDPs) because they are challenging to master, partly because improving in them means acting against our nature. These competencies were grouped into five themes (Giles, 2016):
- Demonstrating strong ethics and providing a sense of safety
- Empowering others to self-organize
- Openness to new ideas, and fostering organizational learning
- Efficient learning
- Nurturing growth
- Fostering a sense of connection and belonging
Effective LDPs are critical for both employees and employers in this new terrain of unpredictable rapid change. There is a need to anticipate these changes, find ways to cope with them and ensure our leaders are ready to handle them.
With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, leadership attributes will undergo testing. Only those with strong leadership competencies will survive the sudden change. The survival or disappearance of an organization during this turbulent time will depend on whether leaders exhibit these competencies.
One of the most effective leadership competencies needed during the pandemic is resilience. I, for one, tend to be resilient when I connect with my spirituality. I find myself sometimes in situations where I completely forget to execute my learning and understanding of effective leadership skills. In those times, I know it is my spirituality that kept me going. I prayed and asked for God’s wisdom to handle the difficult situations. I passionately believe resilience is one of the competencies that will test a leader’s effectiveness in these difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As an effective leader, the need to be humble and genuinely love our followers is critical. Rick Warren (2007) said, “Humility is thinking more of others. Humble people are so focused on serving others; they do not think of themselves.” Servant leadership is relevant but often ignored (Bernice et al., 2017).
Servant leadership means placing the good of others and the organization over the leader’s self-interest (Bernice et al., 2017).
In the pursuit to be effective leaders, it is critical to embrace our spirituality as “faith anchors leadership in deeply held belief about the world, people and the purpose of work” (Bernice et al., 2017). That faith motivates leaders to seek creative solutions to business challenges that typically do not exist in the typical day-to-day business practices (Bernice et al., 2017). During unforeseen and sudden changes such as the pandemic, so much unfamiliarity and uncertainty arise, making effective responses often lacking (Gemma & De Smet, 2020). COVID-19 has reminded us all that, as humans, we are not always in complete control of our situations. Instead, we all need to remember to seek resilience through spirituality to guide us through difficult times and not rely solely on our knowledge and competencies.
Nkem Onyegbula is a principal with CYNKON. He is responsible for providing change management services to his numerous clients. Prior to CYNKON, Nkem worked in Canada for Deloitte and the City of Edmonton. Onyegbula holds an MBA from the University of Tampa and a bachelor’s from the University of Lagos. He cherishes quality time with his wife and three kids.
D’Auria, Gemma, and Aaron, De Smet. “Leadership in a Crisis: Responding to the Coronavirus Outbreak and Future Challenges.” McKinsey & Company, Mar. 2020, www.mckinsey.com/business- functions/organization/our-insights/leadership-in-a-crisis-responding-to-the-coronavirus-outbreak-and-future- challenges.
Giles, Sunnie. “The Most Important Leadership Competencies, According to Leaders Around the World.” Harvard Business Review, 25 Oct. 2017, hbr.org/2016/03/the-most-important-leadership-competencies- according-to-leaders-around-the-world
Ledbetter, Bernice, et al. “Does Spirituality Make a Difference in Leadership? – Peer-Reviewed Academic Articles: GBR.” Graziadio Business Review | Graziadio School of Business and Management | Pepperdine University, 22 Feb. 2018, gbr.pepperdine.edu/2017/12/spirituality-make-difference-leadership/
Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for, Rick Warren. Zondervan, 2007.