If there is one thing that everyone can agree on at this time of COVID-19, it is that we are in a time of crisis. As industrial and organizational psychologists who work with leaders from organizations around the world, E.A.S.I-Consult® has been viewing today’s situation as an opportunity to reflect on the overwhelming impact that exceptional leadership can have during any crisis.

We’re not the only ones thinking about this. On the April 12th CBS Sunday Morning television show, Ted Koppel interviewed several persons about leadership during a crisis. Retired Four-Star General Stanley McChristal and Father Joseph McShane, S.J., President of Fordham University, were two of the interviewees and were asked, “What are the keys to leading successfully during a crisis?”

General McChristal started by saying that the leader must truly care for the organization and be genuine while communicating and making decisions. Finally, he noted that leaders will experience fear during any crisis, but it was important to admit this fear and use it as a motivator.  At the same time, he noted that caution is especially important when making decisions during a crisis.

Fr. McShane emphasized the need for a leader to be humble during crises. In addition, he believes that leaders who excel during a crisis are those who have an accurate understanding of their own knowledge and can identify the priorities as the situation evolves. Leaders must also “be wise,” ask for information from others, and then apply what they’ve learned as the events warrant.

As our logo states, E.A.S.I-Consult supports Business – Driven by Science. Therefore, I decided to explore recent research surrounding this topic. For example, a group at McGill University (Paquin, H., Bank, I, Young, M. Nguyen, L. H. P., Fisher, R, and Nugus, P; 2018) studied critical medical situations to determine what leadership approach was most effective during these crises. They found that during relatively “unstructured” (i.e., unpredictable) cases – such as a crisis – a higher level of “coordinative leadership” led to more successful outcomes. In other words, effective crisis leaders quickly established (i.e., coordinated) the management of the context and allocated priorities throughout the event.

Based on over 15 years of leadership assessment and development with thousands of leaders, E.A.S.I-Consult examined our data to identify capabilities and approaches that are particularly essential during crises. To begin, several years ago we established that four capabilities consistently differentiate “exceptional” leaders from “average” leaders:

  1. Strategic Analysis and Agility: The ability to consistently identify and analyze crucial data, events, etc. while effectively adjusting to unexpected events and quickly learning how to excel in a situation that “you have never seen before.”
  2. Leading Across the Enterprise: Leading and collaborating across the entire enterprise.
  3. Establishing and Communicating the Organization’s “Brand”: Establishing and communicating a “clear link” between each employee’s behavior and how those behaviors support the organization.
  4. Driving Continuous Change/Improvement: Leading change in a manner that results in continuous improvements/enhancements throughout the organization.

But, are there different requirements during a crisis?  It seems as if the answer is “somewhat.” That is, these four capabilities are still essential, but their emphasis changes. Specifically, Agility becomes more important since, by definition, a crisis is a situation that “you have never seen before.” Collaborating is crucial since a leader requires even more input and support from others during a crisis. The need for Communication is heightened, and it must be even more consistent, honest, and clear – this is no time for ambiguity or uncertainty. And, Change/Improvement is essential since unexpected events are now always occurring.

Within the context of the shift in these capabilities, two other, more personal qualities are also essential: empathy and a calm, humble manner. As discussed during the CBS Sunday Morning interviews, and noted by Ulrich and Lawrence (Ulrich, D. and Lawrence, K.; 2020), leaders need to “care for both the individual and the organization,” and “balance the need for decisive action and the need for thoughtful value-based decisions” which includes the willingness to utilize input from others.

We are living in a world that faces unprecedented challenges in virtually every dimension of life – and today’s crises will not be the last. Leaders who demonstrate the capability to be agile, collaborate across borders, communicate effectively, and strive for continuous improvement are well equipped to guide their organizations through the unknown. It is those leaders, and the organizations to which they’re dedicated, who will establish lasting legacies and enjoy enduring success.

Joseph Gier, Ph.D. is Vice President – Consulting Services at E.A.S.I-Consult® and is a licensed Psychologist.  E.A.S.I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized organizations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. Utilizing scientific approaches, E.A.S.I.-Consult provides superior results to Business – Driven by Science. Our specialties include leadership and leadership potential assessment, online employment assessment, customized skills assessment, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about E.A.S.I.-Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.