Charles Knippen is the president of The National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS).
It’s in the very nature of young people to evolve to fit the eras in which they live. During good times or bad, they see how successful leaders react to the challenges of modern life. They absorb the hard-earned lessons of their predecessors like a sponge, bringing a fresh perspective to problems that seemed unsolvable for generations.
Our society is built on their ingenuity, and the post-pandemic era will be no exception. For young people, it’s imperative to take this moment to learn from leaders who have successfully navigated their organizations through the Covid-19 crisis. At the same time, it’s the responsibility of current leaders to be the stewards of their growth, providing examples of successful leadership for the next generation.
Qualities That Will Carry Us Forward
One of the key lessons young people can take from today’s successful executives and leaders is the value of taking care of your people. Whether they are your workers, students or family, the safety and health of those who live and work close to you should be a top priority in times of hardship.
As president of The National Society of Leadership and Success, I saw our student members go through hardships firsthand when colleges across the country made the decision to turn to remote learning. Their sacrifices likely saved lives. Counties with larger schools saw cases drop nearly 18% once they moved to remote learning full-time.
Our young leaders have learned more than just endurance and selflessness during this time, however. They’ve also seen how leaders forge ahead with optimism, creating the potential to change leadership for the better. In fact, the American Psychological Association (APA) identified seven qualities effective leaders used to grow trust and improve communication during the pandemic. These will be the foundation for the growth and development of future leaders. Here’s how:
1. Managing stress successfully
People look to their leaders and experts for cues on how to react to uncertain situations. For example, Dr. Anthony Fauci’s measured, fact-based approach to sharing critical health information and handling the pandemic made him one of the most popular figures in America. His calmness under pressure was a model for many.
Standing up and taking control over stress is more than just good leadership; it’s good for you, too. Leaders who feel they have a high level of control in their organizations actually experience lower levels of stress. This control can develop from taking a proactive approach to tackling issues. In fact, actively solving problems that stress us can improve our personal performance.
2. Building credibility through expertise
As the APA states: “credibility is a combination of expertise and dependability.” And there’s no shortcut to building it. By capitalizing on the skills they already have through personal development and volunteering for new work opportunities, young leaders can start building the credibility they’ll need to be capable leaders. And current leadership can help by readily offering those opportunities.
3. Being prepared to deliver bad news
Leaders gain respect by telling it how it is — not by offering a more optimistic, but ultimately false, view of a tough situation. That doesn’t mean doom and gloom are the answer, either. Simply tell people the truth. If you don’t, you risk destroying the trust you have earned.
Leaders who reacted quickly and transparently during the pandemic were rewarded with better outcomes. Studies have shown that a rapid response played a large role in countries like Germany and New Zealand, where strong leadership quickly turned the tide against the virus.
4. Communicating decisions with empathy
Even when they do need to deliver bad news, leaders can encourage more positive outcomes by focusing on what can be done to move forward. Offering specific steps to take and demonstrating behavior that will lead the way out of dark times goes a long way.
One such step could be investing in a more empathetic workplace for future employees — one that recognizes people’s vulnerability to rampant burnout. In this kind of environment, employees understand that leaders think carefully about their decisions, especially when they’re difficult.
5. Establishing a reliable communication routine
During the early days of the pandemic, Americans tuned into daily briefings like never before. As the days ticked by, knowing leaders were taking action each day mattered to those staying home and became part of their daily mental health routines — routines that prevented them from assuming the worst and lowered stress.
Learning good communication skills and practicing them is key. Even those well-versed in communication need to accommodate their skills to different situations, people and cultures.
6. Providing an open forum for suggestions
While a leader may not be able to seriously consider every viewpoint, offering an open forum to those who wish to be heard engenders a sense of community and brings people together. A leader who provides an open forum for their constituents also provides them with a feeling of engagement and understanding. An easy way to practice this every day is by regularly asking others for input and being receptive to suggestions.
7. Modeling desirable behaviors for others
If your policy is “do as I say, not as I do,” you’ll find yourself losing ground even among those who used to trust you the most. A good leader believes in the advice they give and will showcase their values through actions. The next generation of leaders must learn how to earn that trust by getting their hands dirty as well as aligning their behaviors with their values.
Our perceptions of quality leadership have changed during the pandemic, and young leaders have taken notice. When it’s their turn to lead, they will have an entire toolbox of qualities and traits that, were it not for Covid-19, they might not have observed in action. Whatever the next big challenge is, they’ll be more prepared than any previous generation to face it.