Leaders Under Pressure: Finding The Essential Skills For The New Era

August 24, 2020

GettyThe Hertz Corporation, Neiman Marcus, Frontier Communications, McDermott International, and JC Penney are just a few large corporations that have filed for Bankruptcy in 2020. According to recent data, this list of bankruptcies will continue to grow larger than we have ever seen before. The pandemic has impacted, mostly in a significant and negative way, nearly every employee and leader worldwide. Work is forced to be done in different ways.  Employees have developed heightened anxiety and concerns about their future.

Are we powerless in our circumstances? Is there something leaders can do to soldier on through these difficult times? Are there certain skills that can even make a difference in a Pandemic?

As my colleague Jack Zenger and I searched for what exactly is required in these new circumstances, we realized we had some very unique data. We could look at our database of 360-degree assessments and see if there were any significant changes in the way direct reports scored their leaders after the pandemic hit. Were there certain traits that were now more important? We weren’t sure if we would find anything significant or if the reports would be the same. What we learned from these leaders was regardless of culture, industry, or position, there are traits that we cling to in times of need.

A group we will call Alpha was a senior management team. We appreciated this data because senior leaders have had the responsibility to make a significant number of difficult decisions during the pandemic. The other group we call Beta was 1,276 leaders. These leaders have been forced to work in different ways and address challenges. About 50% of these leaders were from the US, the remainder were scattered across the globe. Leaders in this group came from a variety of different organizations, levels, and functions. To analyze the data, we separated those leaders who scored above average on the 60 items of a multi-rater or  (360-degree assessment) compared to those scoring below average.

As we looked at all the reports, we began to see that regardless of the organizations or locations, we see the same behaviors popping up and being scored entirely differently. We discovered a consistent set of 11 behaviors that differentiated high scorers and below-average scorers in both Alpha and Beta. In addition, we observed that five items were showing larger differences within the Alpha or senior executive group than in the Beta group.

Further analysis of these 16 behaviors confirmed that leaders who scored above average had a significant positive impact on their overall effectiveness. (For Alpha leaders T Value = 5.80, Sig = 0.000, for the Beta leaders T Value = 54.28, Sig = 0.000.) These 16 behaviors were deemed essential skills that enabled leaders to be more successful in the pandemic.

The graph below shows the impressive difference these 16 behaviors made in how individuals were perceived on their overall leadership effectiveness. Looking at our extensive database of 360-degree assessments, we modeled the impact of high and low performance in these areas.


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Joe Folkman

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Hitting the Pandemic Wall: 8 Ways To Work Through The Fatigue