A time for leaders to shine

by Richard Spilg - Coaching for Leaders
Monday , 13 April 2020 - 2 minute read
A woman reads a tablet while at home

We’re living through tough times right now. Taking positive action towards enabling New Zealanders to survive the Covid-19 pandemic must always come first, but the knock-on effects for the economy and Kiwi businesses are also difficult to ignore.

Whether you’re an employer, employee or self-employed, the likelihood is that you’ll be facing a lot of different pressures at the moment – from adjusting to a remote style of working to angst over paying the bills or even how to continue putting food on the table.

Good leadership is key in times like these. “Cometh the hour, cometh the leader” as the saying should probably go. So if you’re in a position of responsibility, fighting fires on any number of fronts, now is a great time to take a step back and figure out what really good leadership looks like:

Here are some tips to put you on the front foot:

Define the problem and speak honestly

In times of uncertainty people will be looking to you for clarity and certainty. David Rock contends that Certainty is one of the five domains of social experience that your brain treats in the same way as a survival issue1. This highlights the importance of leaders effectively communicating a vision and strategy for their businesses – and being as transparent as possible in the process.

Show your humanity

You won’t have all the answers, so it’s ok to admit that and show vulnerability. Be empathetic and don’t discount the anxieties of people that report to you. One of the most important ways to build trust among your team is to demonstrate that you are actively listening - which involves suspending your inner dialogue and giving them your full attention.

Manage your own emotions

People won’t want to see you panicking or being alarmist. This is the time to demonstrate high levels of Emotional Intelligence, the key pillars of which include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management2.

Manage your own time and energy

You’ll likely have no end of demands on your time and issues to resolve. You’re no good to anyone if you’re stressed and exhausted so be sure to maintain a healthy work/life balance that includes exercise (or whatever else helps you de-stress) and to keep a sense of humour. At work, figure out what you can eliminate from your diary to make sufficient time to focus on the most important issues and try to tackle those when your energy levels are highest. Your family will also need you to be present for them and you can always rely on them to keep you grounded!

Demonstrate due diligence

While you may not have all the answers, your team will want to see that you understand the issues and that you have worked through multiple scenarios. When doing sensitivity analysis be sure to include extreme outcomes as that will help manage expectations. When reporting up (e.g. to your Board), don’t sugar-coat the message – but make sure that whatever you present is backed by thorough research and analysis.

Be yourself

We all have a preferred natural leadership style, but the mark of a really good leader is that they are able to tap into other styles as circumstances dictate. By way of example, while democratic leadership may be your go-to style, it won’t do the trick when the building’s on fire and needs to be evacuated in a hurry. Remember that people quickly pick up on a lack of authenticity and won’t respond positively if they see you trying to be someone you’re not.

Involve your team

Leadership is always a lonely business, especially in times of crisis. So relieve the pressure on yourself by relying on your team for support. Involve them in key discussions and use their collective wisdom to figure out the best solutions. This is a time when organisations with high-performing teams come to the fore – and there’s no better way to build trust than to show vulnerability and seek out your team’s views.

Create a safe environment

Teams cannot be effective, never mind high-performing, in a climate which doesn’t encourage them to raise questions, concerns and ideas without fear of repercussion. Be sure to credit any successes to your team/good teamwork – there’s no limit to what can be achieved provided you don’t mind who gets the credit! On the flipside, taking personal responsibility for things that may not have worked out as planned will build trust and establish authenticity.

Richard’s career across financial and professional services has included involvement with start-ups through to the management of complex, highly-regulated, multi-jurisdictional businesses. His CEO and Board experiences in New Zealand, the UK, Australia and South Africa, coupled with his extensive coaching experience, provides him with a sound theoretical and practical approach to supporting senior leaders. www.coachingforleaders.co.nz


  1. Rock, D. (2009) Your Brain at Work
  2. Goleman, D. et al. (2001) Primal Leadership

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