Public Leadership Through Crisis 4: You Must be Smarter Than Your Brain

Posted on March 31, 2020

part 4

Today’s blog is written by ELGL member Matt Andrews and cross posted from our friends at the Building State Capability program at Harvard University.

The Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in the face of a crisis (like the COVID-19 pandemic).

You will notice that the first three blogs have all been about the leader—not the crisis. This is intentional, as we think you—the leader—need to be ready in  yourself for the challenge you are facing. You can never be fully ready, but the basics I am suggesting can help you. I will be offering four more posts dedicated just to you preparing yourself—rapidly—for this challenge, and then we will move to working with the crisis itself, and your team, and the broader set of actors you will need to engage for help.

As indicated in the third blog post, I do not believe there is a one best way approach to do this work. I hope these ideas will help you think actively about the approach you will take.

Let’s remember the ideas shared so far (with links to the relevant blogs):

  1. Clarify your ‘public’ motivation (it’s what will keep you strong and  focused),
  2. Be honest —but not hampered by—about self-doubt,
  3. Commit to communicate—to help people deal with fear and accept change,
  4. Identify your key people and how you will motivate and mobilize them, and
  5. Fight all tendencies to freeze, by being brave (take responsibility, nothing less), being calm (responding quickly not rashly), and being adaptive (remember there is no perfect response, so try and be  willing  to  change) 

We wonder if you agree with these ideas? Or if you have tried answering the  questions asked in relation to the ideas: they are designed to help you actively prepare yourself.

Notice the important, vital message embedded in idea 5 (above)

One day in the future, when this crisis is averted or resolved or managed into some new and acceptable equilibrium, you will not be tested on whether you did things perfectly.

You will, instead, be tested on whether you ultimately managed  to help your people get through it, albeit imperfectly. You will almost certainly have made mistakes and be able to learn lessons to do things better, but you will also know that your success in leading would not have been possible without the mistakes. 

So please, adopt a brave but calm try-learn-adapt mentality to your leadership. Your goal is to steer your ship through this storm in a good manner.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of that good.

Today’s blog post topic is also centered on you, but also gives you some ideas to ponder about why it is so hard to mobilize your  people, and how you might communicate with them to get them mobilized in the face of the crisis. The topic is ‘you as a leader must be smarter than your brain’ (especially in  this crisis).

Continue reading Part 4 of Matt’s blog series!

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