Employee Engagement, Employee Surveys, Human Resources

Survival of the Fittest: the best traits of crisis leadership – Humanness

Evy Fellas

How you view leadership matters. Are you a Major leading an army, facing battles and enemies? Or the manager of a football team, pushing your team to be better? Maybe you see it like conducting an orchestra, focused primarily on overall performance.

Whatever your perception, it affects how you view your employees. That’s why, this week, we’re focusing on a new trait crucial for effective leadership: humanness.

4. Humanness

Humanness. It’s the act of acknowledging we’re humans, not machines. Not soldiers, footballers, or musicians – defining your people by what they do – but humans, first and foremost.

We all have emotions, and effective leaders recognise that – particularly during a crisis situation, like the ongoing global pandemic. You don’t have to solve all your employees’ problems. But it makes a big (and strategic) difference to their engagement and effectiveness if they have a leader who can connect with them on a human level.

Our findings:

Empathy and humanness – these were the qualities of effective leaders that stood out loud and clear in our Responsiveness survey data. These were the key elements:

  • Humanness: this was the single trait by which employees distinguished ‘good’ from ‘great’ leaders
  • Care: consistently rated lowest by employees, this concerns whether personal needs were supported
  • Well-being: a key area overall, but great leaders were seen to be starting conversations – not initiatives

Strikingly, our language analysis of open-text questions showed employees from companies with the lowest responsiveness scores spoke about a lack of leadership support in the initial stages of lockdown – just when they needed it most.

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According to the World Health Organisation, up to 1 in 4 people will experience mental health problems – but just 1 in 16 would feel comfortable talking to their manager about it. That was before the pandemic, so it’s more important than ever that leaders are better about making room for these conversations – being ready to talk to their people, if they need or want to.

The bigger picture

Erna Solbergm, Norway’s Prime Minister, has been considered one of the most caring and compassionate leaders throughout this pandemic. Establishing herself as a leader with heart, she used television to talk directly to her country’s children.

Holding a dedicated press conference – where only children could submit questions – she responded to queries from across the country, explaining that “it is OK to feel scared”.

It’s newsworthy, because it’s an unusual move – as we rarely see moves like this from traditional, patriarchal leaders. But it correlates with a theme of women world leaders exceeding during this global crisis.

The claim isn’t that women are inherently better leaders – but it’s worth acknowledging the ‘strongman’ traits of leadership, which have been held as gold standard, have shown to be less effective than a human-focused approach in recent months.

In this particular case, it was empathy – a stereotyped trait of women – that was highlighted. But these powerful responses to Covid-19 have also been marked by decisiveness, with immediate and significant measures being taken by the likes of Angela Merkel and Jacinda Ahern, which show the need for a combination of traits.

Combining decisiveness with communication, listening, and humanness has been the key to effective leadership so far – next week we’ll add the final piece of the puzzle.

It’s time to start the conversation

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