Five Leadership Styles for Weathering Crisis

  • August 25, 2020

Even before the novel coronavirus became a pandemic and halted life as we knew it, we have always lived in a world with numerous challenges, all seeming to come one after another. Sometimes these challenges happen concurrently as they are now with the COVID-19 pandemic, the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, worldwide economic instability, and the ever-looming threat of global warming. Our world is continually undergoing trials for reasons unknown to us - but what we do know is this: humans are tough. While it sometimes feels as though we are crumbling under the pressure of constant turmoil with the world around us, we have stayed resilient. That said, we cannot face new and upcoming challenges in our society using the same toolbox that we used to face previous challenges. As the world changes, we must change with it or risk reenacting the same mistakes from our past.

For leaders, this requires even more legwork. A leader at an organization or community trying to keep up with changing times must be ready to reevaluate their leadership styles. We must be ready to do the work of adjusting unproductive habits and replacing them with productive ones. In this piece (and in our Leadership for a Changing World Online Summit), we will discuss leadership styles to prepare your organization for any crisis.

1.Servant Leadership

How can you be a leader and a servant at the same time? In Servant Leadership In Action, author Ken Blanchard breaks down servant leadership into two parts: the leadership/strategic aspect and the servant/operational aspect. A leader must be just as willing to get their hands dirty and work together with their team, as they are willing to offer direction, goals, and strategy. Proper leadership is equal parts management and strategy - we must be as willing to do the right thing as we are willing to do things right.

In the servant leadership model, customers belong at the top of the organizational hierarchy and managers at the bottom. A true leader works for the people, not above them, and certainly not against them. You can view servant leadership as an upside-down pyramid where the leaders are at the bottom, serving and supporting the people in the rest of the pyramid, and providing them with what they need to succeed. This can be accomplished through a clear purpose statement and values for the organization. That way, everyone in the pyramid understands their goals and why they are important to the organization as a whole. In the servant leadership model, the leader is the shepherd who steers the sheep away from danger and never puts their needs above others.

2. Inclusive Leadership

To serve the people in your organization, you need to understand their needs clearly. Many leaders mistakenly assume that "diversity and inclusion" means walking on eggshells, making sure you always say the right thing all the time. However, nobody has ever said the right thing every single time! It's an impossible standard. Inclusion is a process, rather than an outcome. It's a vital skill for servant leaders to master.

In How to Be an Inclusive Leader, author Jennifer Brown describes the inclusive continuum and how people at any level in an organization can move from unaware to advocate to unlock human potential. Drawing on years of work with many leading organizations, Jennifer Brown shows what leaders at any level can do to spark real change. She guides readers through the Inclusive Leader Continuuma set of four developmental stages: unaware, aware, active, and advocate. Brown describes the hallmarks of each stage, the behaviors and mind-sets that inform it, and what readers can do to keep progressing. Whether you're a powerful CEO or a new employee without direct reports, there are actions you can take that can drastically change the day-to-day reality for your colleagues and the trajectory of your organization.

As Mary-Frances writes in Inclusive Conversations, the workplace is a microcosm of a larger society. As a result, the workplace can have an influence on shaping society as much as the inverse. If we want empathy, kindness, and compassion to be the norm in the outside world, leaders must start by having inclusive conversations within interactions: even on the smallest scale.

3. Decolonized Leadership

To have fully inclusive conversations, leaders must recognize the effects of colonization within our society. While you might think that colonialism or the economic, cultural, or religious domination by primarily European countries is a long-gone historical relic, colonial values still affect every aspect of society. The original model for an American Corporation, the East India Company, was designed to be an instrument of colonization.

According to Edgar Villanueva, author of Decolonizing Wealth, our colonialism-based organizational cultures are built around three steps - dividing, controlling, and exploiting. To decolonize, we must embrace the new paradigm of connect, relate, belong. A decolonized leader works to undo cycles of abuse and allows plenty of space for healing. Whether the leader in question benefits or is disadvantaged by colonization, rejecting the colonizer virus vastly expands the possibilities for the organization and society in the future.

4. Positive Leadership

Positivity alone might not land you a comic book deal, but it is certainly a superpower. In a positive organization, the people are flourishing as they work. When people flourish, they grow, and when they grow, they thrive. Positivity is more powerful than many people realize, but it certainly comes with its own set of challenges. However, for leaders willing to do the work, the outcome of creating a radically positive environment can result in an organization that exceeds expectations.

In The Positive Organization, author Bob Quinn talks about the many hurdles in moving your organization into positivity. In building a positive organization, the first challenge is to see the organization not as a static entity but as a system of tensions. The second challenge is to see all the tension, not just the ones we are trained to see. This means we have to see the whole system. The third challenge is to realize that positives like full engagement can turn into negatives like exhaustion.

5. Anti-Racist Leadership

As I wrote in this article on how to move from non-racist to anti-racist, it is not enough to simply be "not racist" - we must each take steps to dismantle the systems of oppression that have affected marginalized communities for centuries. You might think that you can become more anti-racist through constant self-policing and self-critique, but actually, it's just the opposite: to become anti-racist, you must learn to love yourself more. As Sonya Renee Taylor writes in The Body is Not An Apology, "A radical self-love world is a world that works for everybody. Creating such a world is an inside-out job." The concepts we use to oppress ourselves are the same concepts we use to oppress others. All systems of oppression, from racism to fatphobia to homophobia, are based on the same underlying premise: that some bodies are "good," and other bodies are "bad," and we must place them in a hierarchy. This hierarchy of bodies is based on making us feel fear and shame about who we are, something Sonya calls "body terrorism."

Once you reject the lie that there are things about your body that are "wrong," you'll lose the impulse to dismiss other people because of their bodies as well. Of course, this is not an easy conversation to have. Because of this, we must be prepared to check our implicit biases in order to be the most present leader we can be. This means that we must be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Sonya warns, "Expect and accept discomfort. Conversations about centuries-old oppressions are hard! If they were not, the world would be rid of body terrorism and oppression by now. Honor how we all have been indoctrinated into systems of oppression that we each must unlearn. Unlearning is Challenging." This means that we must be comfortable with being uncomfortable. The world's ills will not be fixed in a single dialogue. Be ready to take the wheel and steer your organization into discomfort - this is how you achieve growth.

Adjust the sails to weather the storm

Of leadership, John Maxwell once wrote: "The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails." This moment of crisis can be navigated by a leader who is willing to adjust their sails to the winds of change. You have demonstrated your ability and desire to adapt to changes by reading this article. By utilizing the tools given by speakers in our summit, you can be a leader who is prepared to navigate this crisis or any crisis moving forward.

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