By Kirsten McGregor, principal and founder of SAGAX Associates, LLC and member of NAWBO-Delaware
Economic recovery differs from economic development due to the speed, urgency and focus necessary to respond to challenges during a chaotic, uncertain environment requiring a revised approach to leadership. Female leaders typically have the ability to more naturally adapt to the leadership approach necessary during recovery.
Communities expect their leaders to have a plan to solve problems, but during economic recovery, leaders can no longer:
- rely on their expertise to develop solutions
- control the situation or environment based on existing policies, procedures and organizational structures
- provide an illusion of control in times of uncertainty where reality is constantly changing
- expect perfection from yourself or your team—it inhibits taking immediate action
You can control your actions and emotions, but you cannot control the situation. You will be required to make difficult, controversial and painful decisions. You must demonstrate courage, embrace change, take action and be adaptable in an uncertain environment that continuously changes. Embrace the uncertainty by:
- accepting that you will not have all the information you want to take action, but you must provide thoughtful and timely decisions
- anticipating the unpredictive environment and adjusting and readjusting as necessary
- focusing on the vulnerabilities the disaster has highlighted
You cannot mitigate the multitude of challenges you will face during recovery. Once you can accept that, you can more easily take action and provide the leadership a community craves during times of crisis and long-term recovery. Lead by example and be:
- responsive, not reactive
- authentic, not sensationalized
- mission-focused, grounded and committed
You may not receive recognition for your efforts—the results from your work may not be apparent for years. In fact, you may be criticized for your decision-making and strategies, but know these are projections of fear that you must not let distract you or your team. Leaders must dig deep and be self-aware and compassionate during these difficult times. In addition, you must be selfless and focus on the long-term recovery and not your personal agendas.
Develop a support system and strong relationships and empower your leadership team. Your leadership will be embraced by your team if you:
- encourage innovative, creative solutions
- eliminate distractions by delegating those tasks to appropriate team members
- check in with your team regularly to gauge personal and professional concerns
- design an emotionally supportive and safe environment
- provide commitment to the recovery mission and your team—recovery work can be exhausting
- provide regular gratitude and celebrate your team
- update your team to prevent feelings of irrelevance in an uncertain environment
The community—your clients, customers, employees, colleagues or constituents—is eager for communications from you. If they do not receive consistent and reliable information, they will do everything they can to find their answers from another source, which may provide uninformed or worse, sensationalized information. Here are a few tips in this regard:
- Ensure that the message is transparent, consistent, repeated, constant and coordinated.
- Manage expectations and provide clear explanations.
- Focus on what you know and avoid speculation.
- Do not dismiss or downplay the situation.
- Provide factual data, information and actions underway and cite your sources.
- Identify the best person to deliver the message based on the audience—it may not be you.
- Customize the message to the audience.
- Promote collaborative and empathic messaging.
Amidst a global pandemic, leadership has been put to the test in both their response and the recovery. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been the hallmark of a strong, empathetic leader in facing the challenges of COVID-19. She takes decisive action day-by-day, acknowledging the changing environment. Ardern’s proactive approach is unifying in nature, combining science, empathy and communication to create reliable leadership during crisis. She has adapted and re-adapted as necessary, clearly communicating with her constituents, building trust between them. New Zealand has been able to do what few other countries have been able to—contain the spread and effects of COVID-19, because of Ardern’s leadership. Her strength among the pandemic marks a prime example of women prevailing in leadership.
As women business owners, we have the unique opportunity to lead during these challenging times. How will you embrace the uncertainty and lead your community during this difficult, yet enlightening, journey of recovery?
About the Author
Kirsten McGregor is principal and founder of SAGAX Associates, LLC. Her company’s mission is to provide economic recovery and development consulting services to governments, nonprofit organizations, public-private partnerships and businesses so they can respond to and prepare for economic disruptions and disasters. Learn more here. She is also a member of NAWBO-Delaware.