Traditional leadership models suggest that in times of crisis, people long for a hero. This is an unfamiliar and uncomfortable role for law firm managers, say Professor Laura Empson and David Morley
What do people in their leaders look out for when a crisis occurs – especially one that is as deeply worrying, enduring and unsafe as the current Covid-19 pandemic?
Standard theories of leadership still promote an old-fashioned archetype – the heroic, visionary leader who gives people clear direction and a sense of calm and calm.
But this is an unknown model in professional companies. Any law firm leader who tries to play the hero is likely to be quickly scaled up by his naturally skeptical partners. Your co-workers have probably known you too long and too well to accept you as their hero.
In quieter times – let’s call it “peacetime” – the leader’s job is to reach consensus, be it on daily operational decisions or long-term strategies. Change can be frustratingly slow – it comes through evolution rather than revolution.
When the crisis hits and the company goes onto a “war basis”, the dynamic suddenly changes. The move can be a major shock to a leader who is more used to slow, consensual change – a surprise that may leave you paralyzed and unsure of what priorities to prioritize and when.
A head of a successful professional company, who asked how he was coping with the pandemic in the beginning, put it well when he said, “The phrase” take a breath “has stopped working. There is no more air in the atmosphere. ‘
With the outbreak of the crisis, the expectations of executives change dramatically. Now, not only do your partners greet the direction, they are actively looking for a more determined style. And especially in such a disruptive crisis as the current one, they are also looking for comfort and security.
Your partners want you to be more emphatic and empathetic – sometimes at the same time. The crisis requires executives to be able to move quickly from a “peace” style to a “war” leadership style – and back again.
Suddenly all eyes are on you, something that can feel very uncomfortable when you play a more heroic role, not only feels strange but also strangely inauthentic.
So where do i start? We discussed this with Wim Dejonghe, the global senior partner of Allen & Overy, in the latest episode of our podcast Empson & Morley – Leading Professional People.
When a crisis hits, the first priority is to stabilize the ship quickly. That means acting ruthlessly and decisively to safeguard the company’s immediate financial position.
It may seem strange to single-mindedly focus on managing cash and increasing the company’s capital.
What about the people How about comfort and security at a time when people with deep and far-reaching fears about the future of the company, their customers, their work and the practical difficulties of working in isolation, balancing work and family, have to fight?
The harsh reality is that there is no point in being a sensitive leader when the organization is swirling down the hole quickly.
And when there’s no immediate plan, as is often the case at the beginning of a crisis, you have time to devise a longer-term strategy to move the business forward.
This can have other benefits too, allowing you to address issues that may not have been fixed in the boom times, such as: B. simple but essential aspects of financial management, e.g. B. the conviction of the partners to bill on time and to collect unpaid bills.
As the crisis drags on, it will be time to rebalance and respond to people’s desire to see more empathy and understanding from leadership.
It’s an important opportunity to reach out to people, show a more human touch, and perhaps share personal experiences on how you and them are dealing with the extraordinarily harsh demands of the crisis.
It’s not about giving false hopes that everything will be fine – that’s not believable. It’s not about emotions either. That is not washed either.
A real effort to share experiences – even feelings of vulnerability – can allow a leader to make strong connections with colleagues and gain insights that would be inaccessible in normal times.
The ability to alternate between these two styles – forcefully and sensitively – and find the right balance between them is clearly a crucial skill.
Such is the ability to accelerate yourself.
This is particularly true of the current crisis, which has lasted far longer than past events such as the 2008/09 financial crisis.
In the past, it was easier to calibrate your response to the crisis.
It is especially difficult to make fine-grained judgments this time around, as no one can accurately predict the direction, pace, or duration of the pandemic and its inevitable deep economic impact.
It’s all the more important to set the right pace and realize that you need to find the energy to face the crisis day after day, long after the first dizzying rush of adrenaline has been used up.
This crisis has put enormous pressure on executives at all levels. Those leaders who are able to change their style, accelerate themselves, and stay positive are the ones who are most likely to enable their companies to be strong on the other side.
Click here to listen to the latest Empson & Morley – Leading Professional People podcast, in which Professor Laura Empson and David Morley discuss crisis management with Allen & Overy’s Global Senior Partner, Wim Dejonghe.
Guest Commentary: What happened to the heroes? first appeared on Legal Business.