Chris Nel

6 weeks in to ‘Lockdown’ – Our Opportunities and Excuses

These are our reflections after 6 weeks of running our free COVID19 Leadership Helpline. This week we consider the dilemma of achieving the right balance between crisis management and crisis leadership.

It is particularly when facing hard times that we need strong leadership . It is therefore not surprising that it is in a crisis such as COVID19 that as a leader, you will come in for particular scrutiny. Paradoxically, it is also in a crisis that people who should be providing leadership tend to get stuck in ‘managing the situation’, rather than leading their people through it.

Your people are making decisions about wether the environment you are creating for them, is the place that they want to work. So what are the lessons from trying to lead our teams through the pandemic.

Lesson 1. It’s about balance. Management and Leadership work mostly in opposition to each other. One is about the control of the organisation. The other is about inspiring people to want to contribute to the performance of the organisation. If we want to achieve extraordinary things however, we have to do both. In their research Kouzes and Posner ( identified that in high performing organisations the ratio of observed management to observed leadership behaviours was approximately 3:7. To illustrate this,  Matt Hancock MP,  the UK’s Secretary of State for Health should be spending 30% of his time supervising department tasks like the acquisition & distribution of PPE and 70% of his time inspiring people at the Department for Health to really want to find new and more effective ways of achieving their COVID 19 objectives of protecting the NHS and saving as many lives as possible. When we as leaders get this balance right, the growth in organisational performance is extraordinary. 

Lesson 2. The opportunities to lead are everywhere – Especially so in a crisis. The most rewarding part of taking helping calls for me has been listening to the surprise and pleasure in the voices of people who have found ways to lead, despite the constraints. For example, one Divisional MD had decided to call three different members of staff, every day. He said ‘having 20mins of human conversation with people I would otherwise have only nodded to in the corridor,  is one of the best things about my lockdown experience’. The opportunities to lead are there, but they can be harder to see than the prospect of seizing a bit more control

Lesson 3. The excuses are seductive. One call last week was an executive who was spending six hours a day in ‘crushingly dull, task setting and review meetings’ … but without them how would we know this stuff was actually getting done?”

In a crisis, we all feel the need for more certainty. ‘managing’ the situation by, for example, sitting in on endless task allocating/checking video conference calls satisfies our appetite for more certainty. But it is management not leadership. We need to spend some – 30% – of our time doing it , but not all !

Things To Try:

  • Label everything you’re doing  this week as primarily a ‘management’ OR a ‘leadership’ activity.  What’s the approximate balance you are achieving? Are you near the magic 30: 70 ratio Kouzes & Posner identified for high performing organisations?
  • As an exercise, plan to split your lockdown working day into two halves. Mornings for Management. Afternoons for Leadership. How easily can you imagine what to do in your work afternoons? Incorporate some of these activities into your working week.
  • Search for great examples of great remote leadership. Care calls, all hands situation updates, online company Q&A sessions, health awareness screen savers, Our Lockdown Hero’s – story telling sessions are just a few of the ideas we have heard about on our helpline.
  • Ask for feedback. Are you a high performing leader, providing a 30:70 balance of Management : Leadership. You can do this informally by asking colleagues good questions or more formally by taking a survey of frequency of observed leadership. More at

If you feel stuck in the management rut , can’t see the opportunities to be a better lockdown leader or just aware that you’re struggling with the loss of control, give us a call. Our free helpline 07776 230 198 or 01733 371 340.