coronavirus impact on leadership and human behavior

The coronavirus pandemic continues to evolve daily creating an unprecedented level of uncertainty in the world. While first and foremost, COVID-19 is a serious public health concern, the global economic impact has many fearing more for their livelihoods than their lives. At The JDL Group we are not experts at epidemiology or curing RNA-born viruses, but we do know about humans and their reactions. 

Here’s what we’ve found: Many leaders are currently living out of the dark-side of their personality, but those whose are agile and whose crisis management style is the same as their normal management style will do better during the coronavirus crisis. In this post, we discuss these research findings in greater detail and provide five “quick-fix”, guerilla-style changes leaders can start doing today to better manage in this crisis and through their (likely) remote teams.

1.  The Dark-Side of Personality is (Unfortunately) Alive and Well

Dark-side personality characteristics typically surface during stressful conditions, times of uncertainty or novel situations — and the coronavirus pandemic certainly checks all of those boxes. As such, at least 50-70% of the world, 50-70% of your managers and 50-70% of your employees are living through the dark-side of their personality, as we speak right now. The rest are just trying to survive and figuring things out as they go based on how they typically do things. Don’t believe me? Just look at what happened with toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Add to it isolation and working at home without support, and resilience goes way down.

Guerrilla-Style Adaptation: Find out more about the dark-side of personality and where it comes from in this blog postMeditate on how you are facing your teams right now. Determine if you are raging from your dark side amid these uncertain times. Which largely negative characteristics are showing up right now?  How do you want to come across? Make two adjustments based on your answers.

2.  We Need Agile and Fluid Leadership at a Time Like This

Being able to react and pivot and change course, perhaps multiple times a day, matters. But, the ability to be agile and snap your fingers and go in the desired direction does not always exist. Like everything, some are good at it, some are okay at it and some will be terrible. Much like a virus, this truth does not care who you are — 30% of organizations are not agile, 30% of managers are not agile and 30% of employees are not agile. Absent of market conditions (e.g., you own a non-essential business like a retail store, restaurant or bar that was forced to close due to COVID-19, so no amount of agility will help), the agile will do better. 

Take Kansas City-based whiskey distillery J. Reiger & Co., for example, with leaders who quickly adapted to the pandemic, moving from spirits to sanitizer, manufacturing more than 20,000 gallons in just 18 days. Initially they simply used whatever ethanol they had on hand to turn out a couple hundred gallons of sanitizer, unsure if the need in the community was high enough. Fast-forward to the first week in April when J. Reiger & Co. had their fifth full semi of ethanol delivered, with more on the way, just for manufacturing hand sanitizer. Smart. Agile.

Guerrilla-Style Adaptation: Read this blog post to find out more about organizational agility, barriers to agility and what to do when your organization’s leaders aren’t agile. Identify which of the three camps you fall into by identifying three ways you and your organization have been agile and three ways you have not.  Then, actively PLAN two changes to make in the next two weeks and make them happen. What do you want to change? From what to what? By when? How will you know you have succeeded? Answer these questions and share out to your organization.

3.  People Are Looking for Consistency and Stability – Something to Lean on and Call Comfortable 

Unfortunately, or fortunately, this can mean good or bad. People want some level of predictability (e.g., No toilet paper? Understood … here is what I will do.) This means having the country, your organization’s leaders, your managers, and your employees try to keep some semblance of accuracy and deliberateness to their culture. Acting the same way and doing the same thing and treating the situation/your employees/your customers like you always have under normal times will do much to help out. Be YOU. This is why experts always tell unemployed people to still shower and get dressed every morning, etc.

Guerrilla-Style Adaptation: Read more about why authentic and deliberate cultures outperform the “right” culture every time and are acutely important during this crisis. Then, figure out how your organization has been true to who it is and how the organization has been different during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not sure? Ask your employees and/or customers — believe me, they know.  Once you gather your data, be deliberate and determine how you want the organization to re-focus. Re-commit for the next day. Announce your thoughts to your employees/others and give them the right (and permission) to give direct feedback when you or anyone else is not living that vision.

4.  Crisis Management

Research shows the closer your management style under crisis is to what you do under normal conditions, the more productive you will be. Leaning on your accurate and deliberate culture, following organizational norms and customs, linking actions to your company’s values and direction, and giving employees something to be proud about in how you respond will all help you deal with this world-wide dilemma. Crisis management style should equal normal management and not be led by the dark-side. 

Guerrilla-Style Adaptation: Much like with a deliberate and accurate culture (see above), reflect on how you have been true to your leadership and style and how you have been different during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not sure?  Again, ask your employees and give them permission to “shoot you straight”. Then, re-commit for the next day.  Announce your hoped for changes to your employees and make sure you stay the course. 

5.  These Points Matter Even More When Managing a Remote Team

Managing a remote team during the coronavirus crisis comes with new and different challenges for both leaders and employees when compared to having direct oversight in the workplace.

Guerrilla-Style Adaptation: Here are five things to think about or start doing today:

  1. Start each meeting with a culture cue.
  2. Be very deliberate about what you want people to do and how they should act. 
  3. Realize, employees who “move away” when under stress will become quieter, “moving against” employees will become louder and “moving towards” employees will wait for leaders to tell them what to do. To find out more about the different responses to stress, read this blog post
  4. Make sure employees understand what consistency is — and perhaps the new consistency is agility. 
  5. Reward loudly and publicly the 30% of employees who are doing things the way you want, shift the middle 30% over and the rest of the team will follow. To find out more about The JDL Group 30-30-30 Rule, read this blog post

The JDL Group helps organizations think strategically about their culture and has evolved our fast-hit, accelerated, culture change program for the needs surrounding the Coronavirus Pandemic. As such, leaders who want change can emerge from the pandemic stronger than before. For more information on our Pandemic Response Plan, including a complimentary 10-minute culture consultation, click here.