The coronavirus may be the most challenging crisis today’s leaders will face in their lifetimes. Unlike past crises, where CEOs could make reasonable judgements based on economics and market behaviors, the coronavirus presents an entirely different type of risk and level of uncertainty. High stake strategic decisions are being made everyday - leader and Board roles have amplified and become 24x7. And as importantly as making high quality strategic decisions – leaders also need to communicate and respond to everyone touched by the organization in a thoughtful, empathetic and positive way.

Almost half of leaders say the most effective action they can take during this crisis is to communicate openly and often.

Our point of view

Now is a time for leaders to meet people where they are and understand their concerns, and enable them to stay adaptable and focused as our ways of working and the work itself changes.

5 minutes

5 minutes

See the slides

10 minutes

10 minutes

Read the report

30 minutes

30 minutes

Watch the webinar

Your questions

Every day, COVID-19 is raising new and complex questions for leaders and organizations to answer. Korn Ferry’s Dennis Baltzley shares his perspective and advice.

[ swipe left to reveal more ]

How we can help you

The speed at which this crisis is moving and the level of complexity and ambiguity is unrelenting. More than ever organization’s need ‘self-disruptive” enterprise leaders who can think across the organization, beyond their individual purview and quickly ADAPT: anticipate, drive, accelerate, partner and trust. Leaders will need to rethink their personal leadership style, how they lead the organization and how they make decisions in this crisis. And even the most experienced leaders will need support to manage their emotions and keep perspective. Korn Ferry can offer experience, coaching and advice to help leaders work through these challenging times.

More than ever leaders need enterprise leaders who can ADAPT.

The global uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic is having a unique impact on executive succession plans. Burnout and panic are a very real possibility and some less tenured leaders haven’t yet been tested in a crisis until now. At the same time there are exemplary leaders emerging from this crisis as key enterprise leaders who inspire confidence and give clarity. And there are roles that have taken on new visibility and meaning. No simulation will match up to this crisis in being able to show what your leaders and leadership teams can and need to really do.

Our CEO Succession team is working closely with clients to quickly review their situation, respond with a cogent plan and accelerate leaders and organization to reinvent for the immediate future and beyond. Identifying and deploying the best successors for your most critical leadership roles may mean thinking very differently about what and who is essential. The cost of poor leadership is untenable, and trusting only your instincts heightens risk. Korn Ferry provides objectivity and experience to help you make the best talent decisions in this time of uncertainty.

Our CEO Succession team is working closely with clients to quickly review their situation.

Crises like COVID-19 remind us that survival hinges on high levels of collaboration and alignment. For leaders at the helm of their organizations, a top priority is having a high-performing team that can serve as a beacon of inspiration, direction, and motivation. Working with leaders and their teams, we see that high performance invariably starts with a razor-sharp purpose, team members who are in sync, fully enabled, and empowered; and processes, tools, and norms that drive fast and effective decisions that infuse the whole organization. Korn Ferry works with top leaders to define their team’s purpose and to mobilize their team around that purpose. Using fast-cycle feedback, self-reflection, and experimentation, we enable leaders and their team to make stepwise changes that yield quick wins in turbulent times, as well as sustainable resilience to future crises.

Korn Ferry works with top leaders to define their team’s purpose and to mobilize their team around that purpose.

Some companies default to reducing their recruitment activity during a crisis. But the reality is that acquiring top talent is as – if not more – important than ever, as companies need every competitive edge they can get to navigate the storm and prepare them for success in the post-outbreak era. We can identify and attract these unique leaders, assess for ideal organizational fit, and build appropriate frameworks for compensation and retention.

We can identify and attract the right talent to lead you through this crisis.

As the coronavirus pandemic expands all around us, stress, uncertainty, and fear is palpably present everywhere. At a time when we need to be close together we are hunkering down in our homes apart. And this doesn’t just have a personal impact. Now, more than ever, organizations need innovative thinking and ideas-sharing across the business. Inclusive leaders can create a safe space, regardless of what is happening externally, where people can feel accepted and empowered to give the best of their talents.

By drawing on our researched and validated profile of an inclusive leader, we can help leaders understand what it means to be inclusive and what they can do now to bring their teams together in this crisis. We also run virtual learning programs on managing and leading inclusively that help leaders close their capability gaps this area.

We help leaders become more inclusive so they can unite people and get the best from their teams.

Deep insights at your fingertips – at all times

In our hands it’s more than just data. We use it to build the DNA of outstanding leaders, effective organizations, high performance cultures and game-changing reward programs. In your hands it can continue to inform smarter decisions backed by more than 4 billion data points, including:
– Over 69 million assessment results
– 8 million employee engagement survey responses
– Rewards data for 20 million employees across 25,000 organizations and 150+ countries

Emergency succession checklist

The uncertainty of the pandemic is having a unique impact on executive succession plans. Are you prepared?Assess your leadership readiness and risk level.

Our thinking

Related topics

Change Management

Engaging and enabling your people through change

Cost Optimization

Reducing costs while staying ready for the rebound

Virtual Learning & E-Learning

Creating virtual learning experiences that engage and inspire

See more topics

  • Talk to an expert
Contact Korn Ferry today

Adaptive leadership during coronavirus

In the wake of COVID-19, the way we work has changed—and it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. It’s hard for leaders to forecast what will come next in this period of global uncertainty.

To succeed in leadership and coronavirus response, organizations need adaptive leaders with well-developed crisis management skills. Crisis leadership is hard, in part because fight or flight instincts kick in during an emergency. Stress shuts down the neocortex area of our brain, which is responsible for reasoning and problem solving. It becomes harder for leaders to exercise self-control, while it becomes easier for them to lapse into a negative mindset.

Everyone has derailment risks—behaviors, such as a tendency to micromanage, or personality characteristics, such as an insensitivity to others, that may prevent them from reaching their goals—and they’re more likely to surface in stressful times. But being aware of the potential for these unhelpful behaviors to show up allows people to identify the risks and control them.

One hallmark of resilient leadership is the ability to remain calm in stressful times, especially because uncertain employees will look to their leaders for guidance. A key way that resilient leaders can alleviate employee concern is to calmly reassure them. Agile leaders can relieve anxiety by affirming the message that “We’ll get through this together” and convey confidence that the organization will move through the coronavirus to the next stage: recovery.

Leadership during the coronavirus crisis requires courage and confidence

In ordinary times, leaders are sometimes tasked with making courageous decisions and coming up with new solutions. But now, during the coronavirus, crisis leadership mandates that executives and other leaders must be willing to take drastic actions and launch innovative ideas daily—and without a guarantee of success. The key during the COVID-19 crisis is to be steady: to pull teams together and to persevere in the face of adversity. Leaders are in a role where they must inspire others: they must make tough decisions with purpose and courage, and their actions, energy, and positivity will encourage and motivate others.

Leaders got to where they are for a reason: no one understands the business—or the context of their business—better than they do. Leaders should rely on their experience and trust their instincts in trying circumstances. To come across as being in control of the situation, they should express confidence in a positive outcome: that’s an essential component of leadership during the coronavirus.

How agile leadership principles strengthen leadership during the coronavirus crisis

In today’s remarkably rough times, with the global pandemic upending the modern world as we know it, everyone is dealing with their own challenges. Leaders are not immune.

The coronavirus outbreak is a crisis that poses many obstacles that leaders may not have anticipated, and it adds weight to leaders’ already heavy professional, personal, and emotional workload. There’s no escape: issues from COVID-19 are looming around the clock and weighing on leaders who are facing novel problems, not all of which can be solved.

Leaders’ inability to address some of these problems typically has one of two effects: it may create fear and additional stress, causing them to become paralyzed, or it may create anxiety, spurring them to act—and perhaps not always in rational ways. Following agile leadership principles is the key to success in this environment.

Agile leaders know that a complex problem like COVID-19 requires a thoughtful approach. To get the response right, they need to slow down and determine when it’s best to pause and when it’s best to move forward. They have to decide how to keep the organization progressing, with an eye toward recovery, while keeping their employees afloat. They must find the courage required to deal with the immediate problems and anticipate those that may arise in the future. And they have to execute tough decisions while also being empathetic to the plight of their employees and their families. It’s a tough balance to strike—but one that is critical to survival and to leading during the coronavirus.

How adaptive leadership improves organizations’ ability to lead through COVID-19

Organizations need strong, adaptive leadership and business strategies to not just survive coronavirus, but prepare their organizations for recovery when it comes. When everything feels out of control, leaders instinctively try to take control of everything they can. But adaptive leaders who take steps to adjust—both themselves and their organization—to the new reality put themselves in the best position to pivot as they move forward.

The leaders who will thrive in these challenging times are purpose-driven. It may seem like the easier path through the coronavirus is for leaders to set aside their purpose and focus on tactics engineered to help the organization survive. But having a purpose elevates both organizations and their people.

To create an environment that will transcend this crisis, leaders should remind employees of the organization’s purpose and commitment. Then, leaders should take steps to reframe the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to satisfy their organization’s purpose by serving customers and colleagues with value in new, creative ways. While this crisis has the power to debilitate, it also can spark innovation, enabling the organization to reach its customers and fulfill its purpose and commitment in new ways. When leaders maintain a laser focus on the organization’s purpose and practice ruthless prioritization, the organization and its people devote their energy to the right objectives.

How top leaders set themselves apart by leading during the COVID-19 pandemic

Adaptive leaders strive to find a balance between empathy and execution. They also show a remarkable level of resilient leadership.

The coronavirus has touched all of our lives personally and professionally. All stakeholders need to feel engaged, and one way that agile leaders can relate to them is by acknowledging their stress and knowing where they are on the grief curve. Leaders should show how much they care for their people by offering support for them as they deal with personal and family issues. And leaders should also feel open to sharing their own stories: when leaders disclose their own vulnerabilities, they help their teams realize that their empathy comes from a real, genuine concern for their well-being.

At the same time, the strongest leaders are maintaining a bias to action; the more decisively leaders act, the more positive and confident they appear. Agile leadership tenets recommend pausing to consider the current times but not being lulled into inaction by uncertainty. But leaders also don’t want to be swept up in the hysteria surrounding a crisis and overreact either. Executives must reflect, learn, and strategize, but they cannot be afraid to take action. Of course, given the fluidity of the situation, leaders must also be prepared to accept feedback and self-correct.

Top CEOs and executives are leading through this crisis by example. They are taking care of their energy and wellness and encouraging others to do the same. They’re looking after themselves by finding outlets for stress, such as exercise. To increase their capability for resilient leadership, they are managing their own mental and physical reserves and jettisoning things that are draining their time, attention, and resources away from important tasks and goals. As a result, they’re better able to approach today’s challenges with vigor and a spirit of innovation, reframing tough times in as positive a way as possible and rising to the new challenges they face every day.

Employees want crisis leadership that helps them move forward

It’s important for agile leaders to think about how to define their vision for how they want the organization to address the crisis. It’s not a corporate vision; it’s a vision that must contemplate keeping the organization’s people and their families safe, consider how the organization can act with a sense of social responsibility toward its customers and community, and focus on ways to allow the organization to thrive in the new normal. It must also guide and motivate people and serve as the organization’s north star. And the vision must be communicated constantly and simply to be effective.

Leadership during the coronavirus means that leaders must also frequently and authentically. Communication is vital to crisis leadership; any vacuum left by silence will be filled by rumors from people who are, understandably, anxious. But every communication from the top must be genuine. CEOs and executives must tell the real, informed story about what is happening; they must face the world as it is, not how they wish it to be. They cannot sugarcoat reality: leaders must share news—good and bad—with clarity and honesty. The goal is to offer people a balanced perspective, informed by optimism yet grounded by reality. The more authentic leaders are, the better their message will be received.

People also feel more comforted by those they trust most—those closest to them—in times of high anxiety. Messages from the top are important, but so is ensuring that all leaders and managers reinforce the CEO’s message. The cadence of communications should match the volatility of the situation as well as the anxiety of the organization’s people. And adaptive leaders should keep in mind that communication should go both ways, so they must have effective feedback loops in place.

Finally, resilient leadership helps teams move forward by empowering them to make decisions in line with their organization’s purpose and commitment. Because their leaders have shared the organization’s values and goals, individuals have the clarity and guidelines necessary to make sound decisions on their own—and quickly. While clear communication doesn’t lessen the risk of the coronavirus, it does offer clarity and accountabilities, allowing people to take steps to position the organization for recovery.

Now is the time to improve adaptive leadership strategies

Leading through the coronavirus is not for the meek. It’s important for agile, adaptive leaders to define the organization’s purpose, create a positive environment that promotes innovation, empathize with their people, celebrate their team’s successes, and help their organization move forward and toward recovery.

Contact us for more information on how Korn Ferry can help your organization build strategies to help your organization lead through the coronavirus crisis and beyond.