Servant Leadership in times of crisis

This week has been filled with examples of strong and not-so-strong servant leadership. Trying to absorb the onslaught of information has me reflecting on the power of acknowledgement as we lead others through change. 

A great example of servant leadership has been from a long-serving CEO of a hospitality business crumbling because of the sudden decrease in business and personal travel. Bookings dropped by 75%, entire hotels were preparing to close and tens of thousands of jobs at are at risk. 

His video message to their global team models excellent servant leadership because of his genuine responsibility, sadness and vulnerability. The speaker shares his recently completed cancer treatment and the resulting hair loss at the start of his talk and sets the tone for how he and their leadership team are focused on the needs of their staff and clients. There are moments where he nearly loses composure because of the gravity of the decisions they are making and the impact he knows they are having on tens of thousands of staff around the world. The only time we hear the word “I” is in reference to his cancer treatment and the difficult financial decisions he is being focused to make. 

This is just one of the many examples of Servant Leadership we have been this week. Two others that stand out include Dr Theresa Tam, the Chief Health Officer at  Public Health Canada and Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deena Henshaw. Both are dealing with very fluid situations and are showing us how to communicate in times of rapid change. (I thought Tam’s ‘plank the curve’ comment this week was both very simple and very powerful.) 

Tam and Henshaw are modelling their intelligence, courage and leadership daily. As servant leaders, they are not avoiding the hard conversations (unlike other elected officials who refuse to answer questions from the media).  Servant leaders do not run away from difficult conversations nor do they sugar coat reality. Servant leaders are not afraid to make hard decisions. They also are not afraid to acknowledge the pressure, stress and worry they carry as they make these decisions. 

At the opposite end of the spectrum was another CEO talk aimed at the general public updating them on changes being made at their retail operations. This felt produced, forced and was coming from a place of ‘we are doing this out of obligation’ instead of ‘we want to be a part of the solution’. I felt this outreach was distant and self-focused. He wasn’t interested in leading with me.

My learning this week is that great servant leadership starts with a genuine interest in connecting with other people. In times of crisis,  servant leaders are able to connect at an emotional level and still share the hard realities. As servant leaders, our job is not to make everyone comfortable. Our job is to prepare them for the road ahead.

How can we be of service?

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