Have you given much thought to how you will be remembered as a leader after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed? If you’ve been fortunate enough to not be laid off or furloughed, you’ve probably spent the last several weeks just trying to keep your organization afloat. Meeting the needs of customers, your employees, and even figuring out how to deliver your product or service in this new environment has been consuming your time and attention. It’s understandable that you haven’t had much time for introspective thinking. However, I’d like to suggest that taking a little bit of time to think about the legacy you want to leave as a leader would be helpful in directing your leadership behavior today. Use these four questions to evaluate your leadership in recent weeks:
- Am I walking the talk? This question forces you to evaluate your behavior in light of your personal values. Are your actions aligning with what you espouse to be most valuable to you? Would your team members describe your behavior as consistent and true with your character, or has the pressure of recent weeks forced you to behave in ways unlike yourself? Are your decisions in alignment with the organization’s vision, mission, and values? Your organization probably champions that “people are their most valuable asset” or that you operate with “integrity, trust, ethics” or something to that effect. Well, do you? I’m sure this crisis has afforded you plenty of opportunities to put your vision, mission, and values to the test. Are you walking the talk?
- Am I treating people with kindness, empathy, and respect? When tensions are high and the heat is on, it’s easy to resort to authoritarian styles of leadership and just bowl people over without regard to their mental and emotional needs. This pandemic is wreaking havoc around the globe and people are being affected in ways that span the spectrum of personal impact. For some, sheltering in place has been a minor inconvenience. The worst of their problems is trying to find where they can buy toilet paper. For others, they’ve been infected with the virus, have loved ones who are sick, or maybe even suffered the tragedy of death in their families. For those more severely impacted, work has been the least of their worries. Are you treating people with sensitivity and kindness? Are you empathetic to how their world has been turned upside down? I’m not negating your feelings or the impact you’ve suffered as a result of COVID-19. However, as a leader, your job is to take care of your team members. Your needs must come second to theirs.
- Am I leading with humble confidence? It may seem that humility and confidence are polar opposites. Actually, I think they are two sides of the same coin. Humble leaders are acutely aware of their strengths and weaknesses. They know what they know, and they also know what they don’t know. Because of that self-awareness, they can confidently lead in their areas of expertise and are smart enough, and humble enough, to surround themselves with people who bring complementary skills and abilities. This pandemic has caused me to relearn the importance of holding my assumptions about the future lightly. None of us knows exactly how this pandemic will shape the future, and frankly, I’ve been turned off by prominent individuals who make such claims. Are you confidently leading with humility and admitting what you don’t know about the future, or are you trying to “fake until you make it” by acting as if you’ve got it all figured out?
- Am I keeping it real, yet leading with faith and resilience? In recent days I’ve been reminded of the experiences of Admiral James Stockdale, the highest-ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the Vietnam War. During his eight-year imprisonment from 1965-1973, Stockdale was tortured over 20 times, yet all the while he shouldered the responsibility of leading the other prisoners in captivity. He created covert systems of communication among the prisoners and devised a way to share secret intelligence information through handwritten letters to his wife. As recounted by Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great, Stockdale described the importance of balancing reality with resilience. He said, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” Are you being open and transparent with your team about the harsh realities your organization is facing because of the COVID-19 pandemic? If not, why? Your people are big boys and girls. They can handle the truth. If you are sharing the harsh reality, are you also conveying hope and optimism that the organization will persevere and do everything possible to not only survive the pandemic, but emerge stronger and better because of it?
Rather than assessing your leadership legacy when the COVID-19 pandemic is long gone in the rearview mirror of life, evaluate how you are leading right now by using these four questions. Are you walking the talk by living out your personal values and those of the organization? If not, how do you need to adjust? Will your people look back on this time and be able to say you treated them well? I’m a believer in the truth expressed by Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Are you leading confidently, yet humbly aware of your limitations, and surrounding yourself with other capable leaders? And finally, are you keeping it real with your people, but communicating and demonstrating that faith and resilience will see you through this tough time? Don’t leave your leadership legacy to chance. Start living it now.