The Michaelis dictionary has different meanings for the word crisis: unfavorable situation; abnormal and serious situation; conflict, tension, disorder. In all of them there is the notion that the crisis is a negative event, that destabilizes our structures and that transforms our way of living in a profound way.
There is no doubt that the word fits very well to describe the current context. We live in a moment of crisis brought about by the pandemic of coronavirus, something that manifests itself in the economic, political and social dimensions. There is no country that has not been impacted, to a greater or lesser degree, by the perverse effects of this collective challenge.
And of all the fundamental requirements to face this problem, perhaps the main one is the diligent work of a leader.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to study at Harvard University with professors Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, adaptive leadership theorists. At the time, I worked as an impact investment consultant and started to dream of creating the BrazilLAB, which became the country’s first GovTech hub that connects the ecosystem of startups with the public sector. Even though I lived with several leaders and I was also the leader of several organizations and teams, the lessons I learned from the experience were transforming.
In addition to demystifying preconceived – and almost crystallized – ideas of what it means to be a leader, studying with Heifetz and Linsky made me understand the power that leaders have in encouraging people and promoting change. And it is in the moment of crisis that leaders become even more the protagonists of positive transformations – and there is no doubt that the moment requires just that.
What it means to be a leader and what it means to lead
The first lesson I learned is that the widespread notion that leadership has an innate and unalterable profile – usually, serious, controlling, strong and imposing people – is not at all consistent with reality.
More than personal characteristics, leadership – not leadership or command – is born from people who combine three main elements: the concern with a long-term vision, even if connected with the data and possibilities that the present brings; the ability to communicate, dialogue and mobilize people who are “under their responsibility” and the priority focus on achieving concrete and transformative results.
And more and more we have seen how these three elements are manifested in leaders who have an adaptive profile. They are those who make an in-depth and systemic diagnosis before taking action, considering the characteristics of the context, the impact on people and the need to be transparent when communicating changes.
They are the people capable of generating a sense of purpose and belonging, and those who know how to listen and review positions.
This profile does not fear reality; it embraces it, in its complexity and challenges, and shows an absolute respect for knowledge. A leadership exercised in an adaptive way is capable of promoting unity at times when this feeling is fundamental to overcome the challenges that affect everyone, without exception.
Leadership in action
Adaptive leadership is also not related to age, political alignment or nationality. But it has to do with gender. This is what shows the nations that have been fighting the pandemic and are proof that women are the ones that have been most successful against this evil.
Countries such as Taiwan, Germany, New Zealand and Iceland, to give some examples, had female leaders who combined long-term vision, transparent communication and focus on results to face the challenges brought by the crisis. In an unprecedented moment, quick, forceful and effective decisions were made. The results came quickly and are indisputable: the reduction in the progression of the disease and, consequently, the number of deaths.
There are also adaptive leaders in the private world. This is the case of Luiza Trajano, president of Magazine Luiza. On Friday (3) we talked on the live of the project “Conversations to Inspire”, which I have done every month in my Instagram, and we reflect on the role of leadership in times of crisis.
On the other spectrum of the adaptive profile are leaders who denied reality and resisted acting in the face of the context that was changing rapidly and profoundly. By not making a diagnosis about the complexity of the challenge that was imposed, they started to look for easy, low-cost solutions that did not show results. Worst of all, in the struggle to maintain their leadership style, they ended up disconnecting from people and breaking with the main asset that a leadership must cultivate: trust.
In recent years, especially in developing countries and Latin America, we have been overcome by a wave of distrust in institutions and political leadership. There are several studies that are dedicated to investigating the impacts of this phenomenon – and I hope to be able to talk more about its relationship with technology, soon – but it is trust, as a shared feeling, that makes it possible to navigate uncertainty.
And it will be fundamental for the moment of reconstruction and resumption that we will still live. Without confidence in the path built by leadership, there is no way to mobilize people to follow.
There is still time
Brazil has several challenges and we need a leadership that guarantees that we will emerge from the crisis, at least, no worse than we entered. We will have a long and arduous task, after all, there are millions of Brazilians who are now in social isolation, who have seen their income generation possibilities wane or who have lost their businesses, sources of income for various families. It will take a sense of urgency, purpose and confidence to get us out of that moment together.
And more than just thinking about the coming months, we have to believe that Brazilian citizens deserve leadership that is inspiring and committed to the public interest. This year we will experience the renewal exercise of municipal elections, when a next cycle begins. May we choose wisely true leaders who see in politics the potential for transformation that it can generate.