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Leading with Purpose in a Time of Crisis

The real test of leadership does not occur when everything is smooth sailing. As we all strive to cope and adapt to the new reality faced in the wake of COVID-19, many organizations are grappling with the question of how to lead in this environment and how to fulfill their purpose as a business. And as individuals, we are also asking ourselves - What is our purpose in all of this? The purpose of an organization has and always will be tied to how it contributes to society, and that correlation is intensified today. The way a leader behaves and acts during a crisis will establish their credentials as a good leader or a poor one. That being said, there’s no handy manual out there that can guide a leader through a crisis.

During a crisis, everybody looks to a leader for the next step or for reassurance. If a leader projects fear and unease, that transmits to everyone else. Employees need someone they can rely on, not someone they need to reassure. How does one stay positive when everything that could possibly go wrong is happening? This is not to say that leaders have to be blindly optimistic even when the outcome seems to state otherwise. However, it is important to keep a game face on until the worst of the crisis has passed because once insecurity finds a way, it very quickly morphs into crippling self-doubt. And this can prevent leaders from making the hard choices that they have to. But confidence is not the only thing leaders need to display. While the urge to state that ‘everything is going to be fine’ is going to be overwhelming, it is important for leaders to be realistic and honest. They need to tread a fine balance when stating the magnitude of a situation.

A crisis is always an opportunity to acknowledge responsibility, take ownership, and do better. If we look across the whole of the environment, social, and governance agenda, the way in which businesses conduct themselves during this period will impact public perception of organizations for years to come. How are organizations looking after their workforce and people within their supply chain? Leaders have reported feeling that the recent developments made them question whether their company purpose meets the standard expected from their stakeholders. The leaders who say they feel a stronger emotional connection to their organization’s purpose are more determined to tackle re-evaluating their organization’s purpose as a result of COVID-19. Although there are many unknowns about what the future may hold in light of COVID-19, one thing that is clear is we are living through a defining moment. At Network ESC we strongly believe that purpose is one thing, among others, that will outlive the current crisis and leave a lasting impression in the business world.

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