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Your Rx for Leading During Difficult Times

By December 22, 2019September 8th, 2020LTEN Bonus Focus

We are not physicians or public health experts … we are change leadership experts. We know that living in a VUCA world (characterized by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) is the backdrop for what motivates strategic change and the need for leadership agility. COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is testing leaders’ agility on multiple levels.

As your organizations make critical business decisions about functioning, employee work practices and customer interactions during these challenging times, each organizational leader has added responsibilities to their teams and to themselves (and by extension, their families). As leaders, your actions and communications quite literally will contribute to the safety and well-being of others.

Agility is the power to move quickly and easily. In athletic pursuits, agility is defined as balance, speed and flexibility. We want to share some important leadership agility tips to help you during these difficult times.

Balance is the ability to maintain equilibrium. When high levels of uncertainty exist, individuals become frightened and feel “stressed.” Acknowledge the members of your team who may be concerned about many things, from personal and family safety to financial repercussions, as well as the ability to do their jobs.

Tips for Yourself
Start by accepting your own concerns and unease regarding the current state.
Acknowledge that work pressures may increase as you are called upon to do more or do things differently.
Accept that access to others may be limited.

Tips for Leading Your Team
Recognize when to use different leadership and decision-making styles.
Take time to check in with each team member, ask questions and listen.
Seek to find out what help and support people need regarding their own personal circumstances.
Make sure team members appreciate other colleagues who are shifting priorities to limit others’ work disruption.

For athletes, speed is the ability to think, react and move quickly. The same concept applies to leaders, especially during times of crisis when decisions must be made swiftly, often with limited information.
Tips for Yourself
When making decisions, consider the impact to all affected parties (i.e., customers, employees, and the organization as a whole).

Remember core company values as input – especially concern for the patient. For some life sciences companies, this will mean accepting limited access to healthcare systems and sites of care. However, these same limitations may provide opportunities. How can your company, resources and team contribute to solutions or reduce burdens to systems?

Tips for Leading Your Team
Recognize when to use different leadership and decision-making styles, due to time limitations or availability of others who are now working remotely.
Navigate roadblocks and help your team get the resources they need, especially if remote.
Adjust plans and course correct when needed.

Flexibility is the ability to work nimbly in all dimensions – how you work, with whom you work and what you are working on. Given the crisis, what seemed important yesterday to your team, customers and self may not be as important today. Revisit priorities.

What can you still achieve while continuing to work under these difficult conditions? How can your team help customers? How can they help others in the organization? For our pharmaceutical industry clients, we know that hospitals, physicians and other healthcare stakeholders are literally preparing for the worst. Their priorities have changed and remaining sensitive to their needs and concerns must be foremost in your customer engagement activities.

Tips for Yourself
Take time to revisit established priorities and reset as needed.
Know the strengths of your organizational network and leverage appropriately.
Determine if time spent on leadership development or other training should become a higher priority as other projects or customer engagement responsibilities have lessened.

Tips for Leading Your Team
Be clear on what you want to communicate to your team on shifting priorities and job responsibilities.
Flex your communication style to gain agreement and work effectively.
Engage in joint problem-solving.

Be open to new ways of working and leveraging technology for virtual meetings and learning development.
Leading through change is never easy and the demands for personal, team and organizational agility remains paramount under normal circumstances. The current Covid-19 environment creates an opportunity for everyone to demonstrate agility – when it matters most. Remember to personally stay safe and supportive of your teams during these difficult times.

Dr. Wendy L. Heckelman is author of Change and Thrive: A Practical Approach to Change Leadership and president and founder of WLH Consulting. Sheryl Unger provides project management support for WLH Consulting. Email them at and

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