How Do You Lead Effectively During a Pandemic?


Written by:

Derek Walker


The Wales Cooperative Centre




This pandemic will go on well into 2021 and leaders will need to continue to guide their organisations effectively during a time of crisis for many more months to come.

So which leaders have been doing a good job during the pandemic and what can we learn from them?

The performance of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has, quite rightly, attracted a lot of attention. Whilst other world leaders considered how to balance the health of the people with the health of the economy, Jacinda Ardern focused clearly on health and protecting the lives of New Zealanders. She acted quickly, was clear about her priorities and communicated her message so well that it not only engaged her fellow citizens, but also transmitted well beyond her own country.

Closer to home, there are plenty of others to admire. Some leaders have been particularly good at expressing concern and care for the people they lead. This is always important, but especially now. Steve Murrells, CEO of the Co-operative Group, tweets regularly with support for his colleagues and the challenges they are facing. He articulates a strong strategic narrative about the business and its values. Similarly, the Chief Constable of Gwent Police, Pam Kelly, goes out of her way to highlight the work of her colleagues and express empathy for the difficult job they do. Both Pam and Steve appear to listen carefully to their colleagues and value their views.

Marcus Rashford is a great example. He is not leading an organisation, but he has led an effective campaign for free school meals in England, which has engaged much public support. He has focused on the issue of child hunger, which has become even more urgent during the pandemic. He has led a campaign that is pertinent to the crisis and done so with persistency and passion.

Mymuna Soleman, who set up the Privilege Café earlier this year, has succeeded in bringing hundreds of people together remotely to consider important issues of diversity and inclusion in a way that is engaging and challenging. She is a leader with a sense of purpose who is communicating well.

I would include Wales TUC General Secretary Shavanah Taj, Andrew Morgan at RCT Council and Paul Matthews at Monmouthshire Council, as other leaders who are providing clear direction and communications, engaging well during COVID-19.

Former housing CEO, Duncan Forbes, argues you cannot lead as effectively at a senior level while working at home during this pandemic. In his blogpost he sets out how ‘presence’ is important to enable leaders to pick up on what is going on and to offer support.

I think Duncan is right. It is much tougher to lead well whilst working at a distance. But, for a while yet, many leaders will have no other option. Leaders need to continue to provide motivation, direction, and support in a virtual way, and continue to engage their team. We can learn from those who are doing it well.