Leadership Behaviors Emerged in Crises & Organizational Transformation

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Jan 02, 2022
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It was middle of January when a colleague told us what he just read on a news site about Covid-19. It was an allegation that it was just a matter a time for the first Covid-19 case in Greece[1]. Nobody seemed fraught. It was like the useless information of the day. Then at the middle of March, under the shade of formal lockdown by authorities, everyone was equipped with laptops and a hard copy manual for remote access to systems we were using from office pc. From Monday everyone in our division was working from home. Over the weekend many telephones calls with colleagues took place in order to fix connectivity issues. On Monday morning we had the first “Microsoft Teams” meeting. We were all experiencing a new situation. We were at the middle of an important upgrade of the card management system and any delay could led to serious consequences for the effectiveness of the bank’s customers everyday transactions. Senior management was strict that no extension would be given to this project.

Our company was not having any work from home policy. It was until then a debate was active on whether the work from home means higher organization’s effectiveness and if the benefits outweigh the costs.[2]  Actually there were many contradict views both from academics and companies across the world[3][4], different approaches about remote working and actual tasks that could be performed without physical presence in the office. Suddenly this was not a debate any more, it was the cynical reality. So, without being prepared for this the majority of company’s employees has to work from home something that was not the preference of senior management and however it was obliged to follow this governmental policies. Moreover our organization was not so flexible in changes, had not agile philosophy, it was more task oriented than people oriented and a predictive enthusiastic to planning activities.

What does a crisis mean? Violent change of status quo, complexity, inconsistency and uncertainty combined with fear for the unpredictable future. Covid-19 pandemic was a situation that affected everyone. A pandemic is a type of crisis with specific characteristics. Not only are the economic aspect of living and day to day way of working are affected but also the majority of human interactions both at companies strict territories and societal level. Contagious disease outbreaks are likely to trigger not only fear of the other (infected individuals) but also generates epistemic anxiety that becomes incorporated into the culture of every community, a company, a country or the word in whole.[5] Moreover in order to underline the special nature of a pandemic crisis we may refer to the trauma it leaves behind. A trauma not only psychological but also societal and organizational[6] However still some communities and companies are more disaster resilient than others.

From different scopes of view everyone is affected by Covid-19 crisis. Senior management team that have to orchestrate contingency and continuity plans, middle managers that have to achieve results inside their teams, employees that had to be efficient in different circumstances, fathers that have to make their children follow their normal routine and do not lose their childhood, a housewife that had to perform their everyday housework with all the family members inside and further more. I cannot agree more with a diachronic observation of Peter F. Drucker “To be a manager tomorrow will make increasing demands on one's knowledge and competence, will present one with new challenges and with new opportunities, and will require of one that he both be able to do new things well and to do much better the things he already knows how to do.”[7] And we have to consider a manager not in strict boundaries of the definition but with the wide term of management and leadership, an activity that can be performed in many different places including a family, a school or a group of friends.

Going back in my story, after the first few meetings via “Microsoft Teams” it was clear that we could have good results, either in this new era. Maybe not the ones expected before crisis but some good enough results in order ensure the customer high satisfaction and business day to day continuity. And from my perspective I think this is an achievement connected lesser to the senior management actions and direction and more due to the patterns in human behaviors and certain leadership behaviors everyone in a team and especially our division manager exercised during this ongoing crisis. And this is the point on my article. The opportunity for emerge/trigger of specific behaviors that can be improved during a crisis and that not only can have an impact in everyday way work in a team but also to be inputs and cause of holistic organizational transformation. A transformation that will be derived from bottom to up and then more structured will be defused from up to bottom.

A crisis always highlights the need for specific managerial and leadership Behaviors (Behavioral School of Leadership). These behaviors of course are triggered by specific personal characteristics of the leader (Leadership Trait Paradigm), by the specific conditions (Leadership Contingency Theory) and by the willingness and devote of individual in continues practicing these behaviors any possible occasion. Although it is my intention to approach the leadership from a behavioral point of view, a synthesizing and integrating logic is more than necessary to have a holistic view that can lead to insightful conclusions.

Covid-19 crisis underlined the need of great leaders that are at the same time good managers. They can motivate and evolve their followers and at the same time organize and structure the process for achieving goals. A combination of task oriented and people oriented leadership is the one crisis situation wants. And to be more realistic a tendency to people oriented leadership without forgetting goals.[8] Certain behaviors shall be exercised in order certain outcomes to be achieved.

Let me be clear. It might well be that there are individual traits that emerge in behaviour that are genetically determined. There might be a gene for ‘determination’, or ‘stubbornness’ or ‘collegiality’ such that those who have that gene are more likely to display the behavioral characteristics of determination, stubbornness, or collegiality. However, all geneticists are aware that ‘genes for ‘some characteristics only get switched on in some environments, under some specific circumstance and of course willingness to develop and exercise. And Covid-19 crisis was an opportunity for many people to reveal specific traits through their everyday behaviors and virtual interaction with other people. These behaviors once they bring results can be enhanced and promoted by specific policies and organizational initiatives. And thus an organizational transformation can take pace leading towards collective new characteristics. Alterations in organizational structures, processes in the face of new internal and external calls may be trigger from bottom up when a couple of individuals exercise specific behaviors that are perceived by senior management as preferable then an up – down approach will be implemented. At the end organization transformation means a company as collective actors display the same capacities. Not atomic but collective behaviors that are exercised with consistency.

In an attempt to have practical implementation of essay’s ideas I would try to develop four specific terms that accompanied with behaviors our division manager exercised during crisis.

Empathy

It is more than important to understand other people’s feelings and fears and go beyond obvious expressions especially in crises situations. Understanding the fluid human nature wrapped with emotions and though is the first step in order to achieve high results from people you are leading especially during crises. Guided by a compassionate heart, a caring leader deals with and transforms subordinates with empathy.[9]

Using the term of Genuine concern for others' (GCFO) is a way to approach holistically all the actions having to do with interaction with other people concerning personal issues and not only task or work oriented discussions: from how and when you will ask the other people about their personal feelings, thoughts etc and how and when to give insightful feedback and procced to caring activities and decisions with prerequisite the deep understanding of actual concerns, feelings and motives. This GCFO dimension is found that is correlated with many other leadership behaviors[10]

Our team manager was asking for how we are in the proper time  giving at the same time the sign that he understands our fears and our inner concerns. Questions like how your family is today, did you have time to make some exercise, and it’s difficult to be in front of laptop every day. Certain expressions of empathy via behaviors where emerged during crisis from managers and a new transformation with valuing the human capacity and people centered approach.

In crisis situations it is very important to have a person that you can talk, share your concerns that might be common concerns and feel/ perceive that it can guide you and give insightful feedback.

Highlighting the value of an empathetic culture and the relationship of empathy with employees’ satisfaction and performance is occurring when the results of empathetic behaviors from specific managers are obvious to senior management team and culture senior officers who can take specific horizontal initiative to cultivate an empathetic culture.[11]

Self Leadership

Focusing on how individuals manage and lead themselves is a crucial aspect especially in crisis. A good leader not only applies specific self-leadership methods but also transfer these knowledge to everyone around him. Self-leadership is supplementary to external leadership and is directly connected with Self–Management a field that Peter F. Drucker has analyzed extensively. As it underlines you have to lead by example. And everyone must see that you can manage yourself effectively in order to be effective for the organization you work.[12]

Discussing with our manager and asking how he retains this positive and motivating behaviors during difficult periods he answered that he makes a self-talk and a self-evaluation of how useful are certain behaviors and mentality. Will this behavior help me achieve the personal and teams goal? Will be any beneficiary? If no I have to eliminate.

That is self- observation meaning the monitoring of behaviors in order to exercise the ones that can really help toward achieving a great goal. Also self- leadership is closely related with self-control something that a person displays when in the relative absence of immediate external constraints he or she engages in behavior whose previous probability has been less than that of alternatively available behaviors.[13]

Assumptions/mental images, self-dialogue, and thought patterns have also be examined by academics examined under the umbrella of self-leadership[14]. It is clear that both the leadership context and the trait of the individual employee work hand in hand to produce true self-leadership via Covid-19 crisis the organization can move forward in establishing practices (mentoring, coaching, internal development programs etc) in order team members and every employee to show high[15]

Every employee has to facilitate behaviors that help meet personal and organization’s standards. Self leadership indicates behavior that make to the other clear that you can retain your direction, your vision and your momentum at the most difficult times. And we have to remember that whatever the conditions out there the highest substantial part of motivation lies within a person while a substantial part lies, so to speak, outside and beyond control.

From an organizational transformational viewpoint realizing the need for leaders to lead themselves recognizing and facilitating employee self-regulating systems pose a viable and more realistic view of control than views centered entirely on external influence. Well – organized initiatives but top management, inserting aspects of self-leadership in talent and performance management processes and last but not least  identify where unforeseen barriers can decrease self-management expressions are more than important for exploiting self-leadership individual’s expressions and incorporate them into company culture.

Creativity

Finding ways to make things work with innovative techniques is something great leader exercises during crises. As the status quo is changing innovative and new ways shall be introduced. Being open to try and error is one of high importance

Creativity except from generating fresh ideas has to do with the assessment of the alternatives, the choice of the best and its implementation in order to achieve the goal set. This evaluation process is the second stage of creative thinking and involves mental processes that are activated in the frontal cortex and have to do with executive functions.

In our example our division managers found creative ways to use remote tools to communicate better, create virtual team bonding activities and to surpass certain diffuclaties. For example different ways of automating the testing procedure took place in order to eliminate the physical presence in the office.

It has been found that the frontal cortex regions are triggered in these assessment procedures by facilitating the executive functions, which evaluate the data, filter the information and control the behavior. Thus, creative individuals seem to be able to regulate their mental processes more effectively. In the early stages of brainstorming, they lower the threshold of control to free their thoughts, and in the next stage exercise the necessary control over thinking and behavior using their executive skills to make it possible to apply these ideas. Its ability to regulate the degree of control in the mental processing of information is known as cognitive flexibility.

A willingness to experiment and be creative in my opinion requires rigorous discipline and a result based continuous evaluation. Individual’s accountability still must exist although we are talking for something creative. Well-functioning creativity systems need information input and significant effort of all the engaged in order a proper innovation and creative ideas generation style to be established and performed effectively. Leaders have to seek feedback and help from colleagues and subordinates in order to achieve the best analogy of different approaches.

Both senior and middle managers shall cultivate a safe space for trials and errors. In crisis situations brainstorms with team members on solutions to address challenges may be a key for high achievements. At the end the organizational change can be focused toward modelling in incorporating in company’s culture behaviors to support the transformation to a new way of working.

Managerial Courage

For some years now, many tend to present the lack of managerial courage like the evil of the century, in both public and private circles. This important deficiency touches not only new managers, but also experienced managers and several leaders. Managerial courage could be defined as: "The level of determination of a manager to take directions necessary, even when they might cause dissatisfaction or some disapproval from his interlocutors. In often delicate situations, the courageous manager stands out by his ability to defend positions sometimes unpopular and act even when it would be easy to buy peace and make as if it did not see anything ...”

This lack of courage of some managers to resolve problematic situations is extremely costly, in terms not only of organizational performance, profitability, but also of work climate. Indeed, many organizational problems, inexplicable situations and conflicts are engendered by a lack of "notch" organizational or "laissez-faire" type management.

Coming back to my example our manager has sometimes to take decisions that are not supported both from the senior management and both from the subordinates.  Working extra hours or not accepting poor performance are some examples. Also being strict in cases where due to remote working employees found simpler way to scrimshank was punished.

Managers have to contribute to creating a climate where courage is valued. It may seem easy, but "taking chances" never is. The risk associated with courageous decisions is difficult to calculate. Being courageous could be compared to becoming "skilled" out of our comfort zone. Like any quality, courage develops by experimenting. Some environments will be more fertile ground to develop the courage to act and a manager who says he is courageous must set up this type of environment.

Although changing is better to be done before it is needed a crisis may an opportunity to highlight high appreciated behaviors that need to incorporated into organizational processes, systems, culture etc. Effective and resilient organizations are characterized by collective and individuals behaviors exhibited.

In a nutshell a crisis can contribute to the trigger of new indicative for the case behaviors. And those behaviors can trigger collective and structured approaches derived from top management and transmitted to the whole organization (organizational practices, new standards, new culture and so an organization transformation than may lead to a more resilient and effective organizations).


 Author: George Sioutzos, Business Analyst, Business Author

George Sioutzos is working in the business consulting industry as a business analyst. He has experience in projects from different sectors. He holds a BSc in Management Science and Technology from Athens University of Economics and Business and Msc in International Business & Management. Numerous articles about business and technology issues have been published in most reputable Greek and foreign media.


References/footnotes:

  • Philip Chrysopoulos. (2021, February 26). First Coronavirus Case in Greece Announced Exactly One Year Ago. Retrieved from https://greekreporter.com/2021/02/26/first-coronavirus-case-in-greece-one-year-ago-pandemic/
  • Nakrošiene, Audrone & Buciuniene, Ilona & Goštautaitė, Bernadeta. (2019). Working from home: characteristics and outcomes of telework. International Journal of Manpower. 10.1108/IJM-07-2017-0172.
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  • Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury Cirrus Foroughi Barbara Larson. (2020). Live and Work from anywhere: Geographic Flexibility and Productivity Effects at the United States patent office. Strategic Management Journal, Volume42, Issue4
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  • McFarlane, A. C., & Norris, F. H. (2006). Definitions and concepts in disaster research. In: F. H. Norris, S. Galea, M. J. Friedman, & P. J. Watson (Eds). Methods for disaster mental health research: 3–19. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
  • Peter F. Drucker. (1955). The management Horizon, The Journal of Business, Vol. 28, No. 3 (Jul., 1955), pp. 155-164
  • Blake, R. R., & Mouton, J. S. (1982). Theory and Research for Developing a Science of Leadership. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 18(3), 275–291
  • Undung, Y. and De Guzman, A.B. (2009), Understanding the elements of empathy as a component of care‐driven leadership. Leadership Studies, 3: 19-28
  • Miller, M. (2009). Transformational Leadership Behaviours and Empathy with Action. Transformation, 26(1), 45-59.
  • Jamil Zaki, 2019. (2019, May 30). Making Empathy Central to Your Company Culture. Retrieved from.https://hbr.org/2019/05/making-empathy-central-to-your-company-culture
  • Peter F. Drucker, The Effective Leadership, Harper Business Essentials
  • Greg L. Stewart, Stephen H. Courtright and Charles C. Manz (2010), Self-Leadership: A Multilevel Review, Journal of Management, 2011 37: 185
  • Neck, Christopher & Houghton, Jeffery. (2006). Two decades of self-leadership theory and research: Past developments, present trends, and future possibilities. Journal of Managerial Psychology. 21. 270-295.
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