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Inspirational Leadership in a Crisis

Aug. 19, 2020
Leaders show others they have a plan to regain stability within their operation despite the instability outside.

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating economic uncertainty and anxiety, which means distractions in the workforce are at an all-time high.

Safety leaders understand that when distractions are high, exposures increase. Workers and managers are finding it difficult to focus because they have so much on their minds: their health and safety, the health and safety of loved ones, whether or not they can pay their bills, what the world will look like when this period of physical distancing subsides, and so much more.

It’s times like these when inspirational leadership is needed most.

Inspirational leadership is a transformational leadership style that is critical when workers are worried, production is tenuous, and business is unstable. All three are interconnected—when one falls, the others go down too. Conversely, exposure starts to climb. Inspirational leadership is therefore needed most during economic downturns, uncertainties in world affairs, or from sudden and unexpected natural disasters like a tornado or earthquake, or acts of terrorism like 9/11.

At its core, inspirational leadership is the ability to articulate an idea or an action to win over people so they share the same idea or action. Optimism, enthusiasm, fellowship—these are all direct results when people are inspired. Inspirational leadership builds relationships with others and minimizes the distractions that lead to the higher level of exposure.

But in order to inspire others, the leader him or herself needs to be inspired. They need to believe in the vision they want to share. In this pandemic, experts and top government officials need to believe a vaccine is possible, the curve can be flattened, and that society will pick up where it left off, because if they don’t, the millions of people who hang on those words won’t either.

For that reason alone, all eyes are on leadership during a crisis. People are looking for physical signs and verbal cues that the situation is under control. In other words, for leaders, now is not the time to take passive resignation. They need to be in front of the situation and show others they have a plan to regain stability within their operation despite the instability outside.

So what do leaders need to do to achieve this state? Here are six ways to get there.

1. Get inspired. In order to inspire others, leaders need to determine what “good” looks like. Then they can share that inspiration with others. You don’t want to get this wrong because the stakes are too high.

For example: Recently I was working on a project that required checking on printing materials I needed to do my job. So I called the leader responsible for printing and asked the status of my draft. There was urgency because I had a client waiting. However, when I asked, the leader responded by asking how I was doing and how my family was doing. The conversation I thought would be contentious was instead empathetic.

When I talk with clients I try to lead by establishing a genuine relationship. My co-worker was effective because he wasn’t defensive or anxious. He was calm and authentic. It is possible to be inspired by everyday interactions with people and pay it forward.

2. Establish your vision. Where do you want things to land after this crisis? For example, one vision I find inspiring is the idea that we will get through this together and the “new normal” may be different, but in some ways, it could be better. That’s a vision others can get behind. You don’t want to lie and say that the change won’t be painful. But you do want to prevent yourself from going down the road of only doom and gloom. Make sure the picture you paint is a good one and comes from a real place within yourself.

3. Set the example. You are the barometer that workers will use to gauge whether things look good or if you don’t believe things will get better. Look at what you do or don’t do and what you say or don’t say. If you don’t invest the time and energy into showing you care, you’re just setting the stage for other people to feel rejected.

Think about it as a performance that will have a lasting effect, positive or negative. You have to realize that when you’re on that stage, it’s not just about you—it’s about us. And if you’re an inspirational leader you will recognize that how you respond will have a powerful impact on the organization.

4. Interact with your team. Physical distancing is how we are living right now. We’re not bumping into each other in the hallway or conducting major business around a conference room table. Yet you need to interact with your team. How can you do this? Set up Zoom or similar technology calls to talk with one another, or just use the phone. Leadership is an interactive sport, so you have to interact. When under duress, some people close in. But now is the time you need to reach out.

5. Practice inspiration every day. You don’t need to wait for that monthly meeting to give an end-of-game victory speech. You can inspire others on every phone call you’re on or with every daily interaction. Also, remember: Your workers are not expecting you to give a speech that matches the great leaders of our day. You just need to show people you need them to move forward.

6. Inspirational leaders build credibility with their workers. At the heart of inspirational leadership is sharing your vision, helping others grow, serving as a mentor, and projecting optimism. If you do those things well, you’re going to build trust with your people that will pay off in increased safety and well-being.

So how do you start? Think about what inspired you recently. How can you use those actions or statements with those around you. Communicate that everyone will get through this pandemic together and show them that you really believe what you say.

Recognize that you need to be on your game every time you interact with your people. Make sure you check in with them, encourage them and listen. They need you now more than ever. And you need them too.

Paul Angelo is a principal consultant with DEKRA, a provider of testing, inspection, certification and consulting services.

About the Author

Paul Angelo

Paul Angelo is a principal consultant with DEKRA, a provider of testing, inspection, certification and consulting services.

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