Jacob Morgan
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Jacob Morgan

The 3 Leadership Traits That Will Get You Through Tough Times

Do you have the skills and mindsets that over 140 of the world’s top CEOs said are crucial for future leaders? Take the assessment and find out at FutureLeaderSurvey.com

There’s no leadership blueprint for what we are all experiencing with the Coronavirus and how it might impact our future. It doesn’t matter where you got your MBA or how many years you have been in a leadership role, we are all in uncharted territory. A few weeks ago I shared some of my leadership research in an article titled: 140 Top CEOs Identify Crucial Skills And Mindsets For Future Leaders (which you should read first). Today I wanted to look at the specific mindsets and skills from that list that leaders need to master during times of crisis and uncertainty.

The Explorer Mindset

This includes a few things: being curious, having a growth mindset, being agile and nimble, and being a perpetual learner. It’s during times of crisis where leaders are pushed to their maximum to come up with solutions to problems. Most of the time these are problems that we have been seen before, for example entering a new market or developing a new product. But with something like the Coronavirus leaders around the world are being forced to tackle a problem that is new, something they have never seen or experienced. Leaders need to try out new ideas they may not have been tried in the past. Leaders must also be agile and nimble in their way of thinking, meaning during times of stress they can pivot quickly as opposed to stubbornly believing that they need to just stay the course. This is also where being a perpetual learner comes into play. We must all never stop learning but this is something many leaders tend to struggle with, especially as they become more senior in their organizations. They become complacent. Lastly, leaders must practice a growth mindset meaning that they believe challenges and obstacles are things to overcome as opposed to being things that halt growth and progress. Arnaud Vaissié is the CEO of SOS International and is responsible for over 11,000 people. He has been a leader for over 40+ years and when we spoke he told me…

“Because of the fact that I have been in leadership for so long, I need to maintain an edge on curiosity and no be blasé. Because at some point you say, “I’ve seen it all,” and frankly with the changes going on, nobody has seen it all.”

Empathy (part of the skill of Yoda)

Empathy means that you have the ability to put yourself in the shoes of someone else, to see their perspective and point of view. This is especially critical during times of crisis like now. Leaders can be removed from the rest of the organization, not understanding the struggles and challenges of their employees while they sit in their “ivory tower.” As a result the decisions leaders make do not resonate with their employees. Remember the United Airlines fiasco where a passenger was dragged off the plane? It took their CEO several attempts to provide a public response that showed any kind of empathy. If you’re a leader of a team or organization don’t simply react when something bad happens, spend time speaking with your people to truly understand what they are going through. Part of practicing empathy means actually thinking of a time when you were in a similar situation to those you are trying to empathize with. With the Coronavirus can you as a leader think of a time when you were scared that you would lose your job? That you wouldn’t be able to pay your mortgage? That your family might get seriously ill? It’s never been more important for leaders to practice being human than during times of tragedy and uncertainty.

Kathy Mazzarelli is the CEO Graybar, a distribution company with almost 9,000 employees. Here’s what she told me.

“We must not lose sight of our core values or minimize the value of distinctively human traits such as empathy, judgment and relationships in our organizations.”

Communication (part of the skill of the Translator)

While a timeless skill, communication has changed drastically over the past few years as the number of channels has increased, our teams have become more distributed, organizations are becoming more transparent, and the spotlight on leaders is becoming bigger and brighter. As a leader you need to make sure that your message gets across regardless of the channel that you are using. Furthermore, the way you communicate your message has never mattered more. Take this recent example from the CEO of Marriott, it’s a 5 minute video posted to the company Twitter account where Arne Sorenson (who himself is going through cancer treatment) honestly and openly conveyed the hardships that the Coronavirus has caused for the organization and the steps Marriott is taking. In the video you can see his concern yet also his sense of optimism, courage, and commitment to his people. You can see his eyes water when he starts talking about the impact that Coronavirus is having on the individuals who work at Marriott and his determination to get through it.

Michael Kneeland is the CEO of United Rentals with over 18,000 employees. Here’s his take on this: “I’ve always gone through the world where it’s a reverse pyramid. I’m so far from my customers that the most impactful I think that I can be doing is listening, and understanding what’s happening on the front line.”

How many of these things are you practicing? If you have a story which exemplifies one of these then please share below!

If you enjoyed the article and want more content like this here’s what you can do:

  1. Subscribe to The Future of Work Podcast where I interview business leaders around the world each week.
  2. Grab a copy of The Future Leader which has been endorsed by the CEOs of MasterCard, Best Buy, Oracle, Audi, Unilever, Domino’s Pizza, Ritz Carlton, Kaiser, and Marshall Goldsmith. It explores the most essential skills and mindsets for future leaders.
  3. If you are or want to be an entrepreneur then my wife and I just launched a brand new podcast on how to Be Your Own Boss, called the BYOB Podcast where we share what we did and how we did. You can subscribe to that here.




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Jacob Morgan

Jacob Morgan

4x Best-Selling Author, Speaker, & Futurist. Founder of FutureOfWorkUniversity.com. Exploring Leadership, Employee Experience, & The Future of Work

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