Leading In Challenging Times

May 21, 2020

By: Oliver Page

The advent of COVID-19 has created an unprecedented global situation that has devastated families, schooling, healthcare systems, businesses and economies and its legacy will be felt for a long time too.

Families who have lost loved ones will never be the same again. Children will miss exams and once-in-a-lifetime experiences such as their school proms. Hospitals and medical staff will remain under pressure even after we no longer hear about new cases. Many companies from major airlines to small businesses will be down-sized and many will have gone bankrupt. Beyond the here and now, analysts predict that the global economy will take two to three years to recover.

These issues mean that almost everybody will be touched by Covid-19 in one way or another. Even if nothing tragic happens to them, even being locked in their homes through a government enforced isolation program can and will have negative impacts on many people’s mental health. So, if you are a leader, in any capacity, and this is backdrop of your current reality, you need to understand the level of responsibility that sits on your shoulders.  Whether you like it or not, your people will be looking to for guidance, reassurance, support, clarity, development and interaction.

That doesn’t come without its own pressures, so how can you navigate these choppy waters and not only help people through them but end up with a more cohesive, highly functioning team?  It’s now when real leaders come to the fore.

Leadership comes in many forms and does not require a specific level on an organisation chart.  You could be working on a check out in a supermarket but being conscious of your colleague’s welfare resulting in a sincere ‘How are you?’ and a ‘What can I do to help?’ is a form that leadership can take. Leadership, as opposed to management, is about putting others first. Creating an environment where the people around you have a clear sense of purpose, want to do their best work, feel safe enough to speak up when they disagree, willingly contribute to overall team goals and even in the face of adversity, want to develop their soft and technical skill sets.

Whether you are the CEO of a large corporation, a scout group leader or the head of a local charity people will look to you for direction on all of these aspects. So, how can you create your own sense of clarity in the blur of uncertainty and fear we are currently living in?  Well, many people work best when they have a framework to hang their tactical plan on and although first published in 1973, John Adair’s Action Centered Leadership™ model is one, that for me, can provide that moment of clarity leaders need right now.

Developed during his time as a lecturer at Sandhurst Royal Military Academy in the 1960’s and 70’s, Adair’s model elicits three core focuses that a leader needs to balance; achievement of task, create and maintain a cohesive team and develop individuals.

Although his model and work is relevant anytime, Adair’s identification of these three areas overlap with exactly what is needed right.

If you are a leader, think about the last 2 – 4 weeks.  For many people working circumstances have massively changed, with millions of people globally working from home what actions and ways of working have you implemented to drive productivity, create a sense of team amongst your group and support the development of each individual?

Take a moment now and write a list of actions you’ve taken. Label each item Team, Task, or Individual to give you a sense of the balance you have brought from this model.  Whether balanced or not, you have most likely done these things without conscious consideration for Adair’s three areas but I’m sure most, if not all activities you have listed fall into those categories.

There still maybe uncertainty about what the next few weeks will bring but one of the best things you can do as a leader right now is to act and create certainty for your team.

Now, do the opposite to the above.  Think forward to the next 2 – 4 weeks and create three columns titled Team, Task and Individual.  Now list activities under each heading that you can commit to.

Focusing on task

– Create or clarify goals and deliverables for the team

– Identify any quick wins and allocate people to deliver against them

– Create or review plans to deliver task. Consider; measures, timescales, and budget

– Create RACI chart with team input

Focusing on the team:

– Establish a team charter to agree on purpose, standards of performance and behaviour

– Discuss and agree ways of working and interacting. Consider soft skills here.

– Expose and manage and conflict or disagreements

– Enhance teamwork, cooperation, and team-spirit through online interaction and team building

Focusing on the individual:

– Hold (more) regular one to one’s to learn about their personality, strengths, needs

– Work with individuals to create development plans,

– Identify and agree appropriate individual responsibilities and objectives

– Direct them to learning resources and coach individual around specific job skills


Once you finish your columns, you now have your tactics in place to bring balance to your leadership focus. So, if as a leader, you are understandably feeling overwhelmed right now, take an hour of your day today, complete this short exercise.

I promise you, it will give you clarity of thought and will be the beginning of a leadership development journey that will take you to great places with the work you deliver, the way your team feel about you and each other and the way each individual will step up and grow under your guidance and leadership.  Both now in these unprecedented times as well as moving forward into a bright future.

Put action at the centre of your leadership philosophy.

This article was written by Russell Overy – Founder and Director of Ignite. Click here to find out more about Oliver and his experience.