Why Servant Leadership Is Indispensable In A Pandemic

As the effects of the ongoing pandemic continue to send shockwaves through our lives, a different kind of leader has emerged at the front of the pack over the past few months. The global pandemic, it seems, has exponentially amplified the dire need for decidedly more pro-social and humanistic corporate leadership styles.

It’s easy to see why; the threat of an economic downturn looms just around the corner. Unemployment rates are rising. Work from home (WFH) burnout is becoming a very real possibility. Anxiety and stress levels are as pronounced as the future is foggy. And with no clear end in sight to the pandemic, tensions are running high.

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More than ever, people need leaders who are empathetic, authentic, and humble to guide them through the crisis.

While self-serving leadership styles may have already been on the way out before this, the pandemic seems to have exponentially amplified the need for a different breed of leaders: servant-leaders, who combine the selfless dedication of servanthood with the inspirational vision of stellar leadership.

To that end, here’s why servant leadership is so indispensable in a pandemic.

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1. Effective pandemic responses necessitate “people-first” leadership

A people-centric approach must be at the core of any strategic corporate response to the pandemic worth its salt; health and safety, employee well-being, and community strength should all be top management priorities at this time.

This, of course, necessitates leaders who genuinely believe and practice “people-first” leadership, as espoused in the servant leadership model.

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According to Ken Blanchard, business consultant and bestselling author of “The One-Minute Manager”, the servant-leader philosophy revolves around the understanding that leadership is not about being served by others, but about serving others selflessly.

Instead of being driven by a thirst for power or wealth, servant-leaders are purposefully committed to protecting and maximising opportunities for growth for their people. These are the leaders who focus on ensuring that others’ needs are consistently and systematically identified and fulfilled—a crucial attribute in a time of crisis.

 

2. Long-term adaptability must be anchored with visionary leadership

An atmosphere as volatile and unpredictable as this highlights two opposing realities: first, that companies need to stay as agile and adaptable as possible, and second, that people may feel more demoralised, fearful of and unwilling to change than ever before.

Regardless of all the uncertainty, though, what undoubtedly always keeps us moving forward and staying open to change is having a good sense of the kind of the future we want to build together.

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Leaders therefore need to anchor people to a given purpose behind the work they do; they have to be able to unite people in striving for the same vision of the future.

This, as Ken Blanchard explains, is what it means to lead as a servant-leader. Servant-leaders align those around them to a common vision and move them together in that direction. Providing such clarity in terms of objectives is crucial in encouraging the kind of adaptability and innovation that companies need to tide themselves through the pandemic.

 

3. Times of uncertainty call for leaders who can help make sense of the chaos

Planning for the future during a global pandemic feels akin to trying to find the light switch in a pitch-black room you’ve never been in before. Indeed, having had our plans derailed, reversed, or thrown out the window, people are understandably feeling disoriented and a little lost.

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Leaders need to be able to help people find a method to the madness; a meaning behind all the chaos.

According to INSEAD professor and leadership development practitioner Gianpiero Petriglieri, in times of crisis, leaders need to practice the psychological concept of “holding”; they must effectively “contain and interpret what’s happening” in such a way that it assuages people’s anxieties about the future.

Servant-leaders are ideal for this; understanding, empathising with and reassuring people is simply part and parcel of putting people front and centre. In dire times, servant-leaders cater to people’s emotional needs by helping them derive positive meanings from personal and collective crises.

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