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Leadership for a Better World Begins Right Now

Egon Zehnder Chairwoman Jill Ader shares three behavioral shifts for leaders navigating COVID-19.

  • April 2020

If you are a leader during this humanitarian and economic crisis, you are being tested as never before. At Egon Zehnder, we are convening virtual groups of leaders across the world, now over 1,200, to share their experiences and to accelerate our collective learning. That’s how we are rising to the challenge, because this pandemic demands collaborative leadership. Society needs its business leaders to show boundless ingenuity and compassion, fast – to collaborate, not compete.


Watch Chairwoman Jill Ader's video message to leaders in which she shares three behavioral shifts for leaders navigating COVID-19.


We see three essential big shifts needed in the behavior of leaders, but if you are a CEO, your inbox is undoubtedly full of suggestions on how to lead during the pandemic. These three shifts will serve you well now, and they need to endure far beyond the immediate crisis.

Vulnerability… choose vulnerability over invincibility

Firstly, choose vulnerability over invincibility. The first behavior shift is into vulnerability. This is a word that has struck fear into the hearts of many leaders, but in a crisis, we need leaders who are brave enough to show their own vulnerability in order to show care. This is not a time for invincibility. In the face of COVID-19, none of us is invincible. We need leaders who will dare to be vulnerable and show just how much they care – with individual care and collective care at scale.

Being… from simply doing to also being

The second behavioral shift is from doing or knowing to being. In the face of a crisis, the natural reaction from leaders is to look as if we are in control. We see leaders wanting to know more, gathering ever more data, doing more, filling our diaries – and yes, working from home can exacerbate that 24/7. But it doesn’t have to. Ironically, in moments of crisis, what organizations need most is to feel the presence and very essence of their leaders. COVID-19 demands being a leader. Let your team feel, really feel your leadership! Legacies will be made or lost over the coming months; how you show up is critical.

Purpose… embracing the challenge to meet society’s needs

The third behavior shift is engaging purpose. Don’t miss the point, literally. In the past, purpose was seen as a lofty, impractical idea, even as a sideshow to everyday business. Today, so many of us are seeing the energy, vitality, and ingenuity that comes from being purpose-led. We are seeing leaders and whole organizations embracing the challenge to meet society’s needs right now on the frontline of battling COVID-19. Leaders need to own purpose, during and long after the crisis. It’s also the best way to attract, motivate and retain rare talents, and it can no longer be neglected by leaders. In fact, purpose helps leaders both to manage in the here and now and to stay true to playing the long game. Shareholder primacy was already under threat. COVID-19 proves it is now time to serve stakeholders, not just stockholders. The world needs its leaders to serve its communities, employees, and the planet; not just shareholders. COVID-19 has been the catalyst for that shift.

So at Egon Zehnder, we are here to help. For us, our purpose is leadership for a better world, and we are here to help you in showing up as the leader you need to be. We have 600 Leadership Advisors globally on hand to support you. We are on this journey together. This is an invitation; an invitation to join us in creating a collaborative movement: the movement that is leadership for a better world.

Thank you and stay well.

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