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

Evy Fellas

We’ve spent a few weeks discussing the traits you need to be an effective leader during a crisis. Decisiveness, communication, listening, humanness – they’re all essential. And underpinning them all is our last key trait: integrity.

Integrity is about being authentic and accountable – owning your mistakes. That means doing the right thing because it’s the right thing, whether someone’s watching or not, and acknowledging when they’ve fallen short. Great leaders take responsibility for the world they’re trying to create.

5. Integrity

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing and the Black Lives Matter movement, we’ve seen good and bad examples of integrity from companies.

There’s a big difference between those leaders who jumped on the bandwagon – just using a hashtag or participating in Blackout Tuesday – and those taking concrete steps towards increasing their pipeline of Black talent, especially at leadership and managerial levels within their organisation. That’s integrity.

Racial inequality is a crisis that affects us all, whoever we are – because inequality for one, is inequality for all. Great leaders take action, where others just talk about it – because either you are actively anti-racist as a leader, or you are continuing to support systems of oppression. Over time, this erodes trust with all your people.

The bigger picture

McKinsey & Company published a list of 10 actions in June, acknowledging their need to improve and setting clear targets for addressing racial inequality. This included doubling Black leadership and overall hiring targets over the next four years – and that shows an integrity, and an authentic display of owning up to past failures, that just posting a hashtag doesn’t accomplish.

More recently in August, a group of 16 tech companies – including Survey Monkey, Slack, and Zoom – published an open letter calling for diversity from their vendors and partners. Acknowledging the ecosystem they exist in, and pushing for systemic change, they pledged to contact their 20 biggest vendors to make their new standards for diversity, equity, and inclusion known.

Leaders banner

Integrity in leadership is recognising that you are a role model – not just for your teams, but for others in the industries you exist in. And to be a real role model, you need to lead with change-making actions.

Research supports this: Albert Bandura’s Social Learning theory asserts that most human behaviour is learned through observation, imitation, and role modelling. So walking the walk is essential – something that’s been key during lockdown.

Bringing it all together

Our research showed 5 key leadership traits emerged in the last few months, particularly relating to leading during a crisis situation:

  1. Decisiveness
  2. Communication
  3. Listening
  4. Humanness
  5. Integrity

And whatever your business, it’s more important to consider these traits than ever – as we’re currently facing several crises:

  • Coronavirus: the pandemic is a long way from being over. And even when it is, the ‘new normal’ is going to be hard to shake
  • Climate emergency: climate change hasn’t gone away, and we’ve really seen the impact we have on it due to changing habits during lockdown
  • Systemic inequality: we’re experiencing a global awakening concerning the prevalence of racial inequality in both organisations and wider communities

The good news? It means an opportunity to be the leader the world needs. You don’t have to be a CEO in a global company, or even a manager – because leaders are defined by actions, not titles. As long as you take responsibility, you’re a leader.

The most important thing is building up that leadership resilience now – as my previous research, conducted during the 2008/9 financial crisis, shows the companies that survived crises best were the ones who built up resilience in advance. So start practicing!

It’s time to start the conversation

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