Leadership & Talent Identification in Uncertain Times

As a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, humankind is facing  a universal crisis, with the global economy facing unprecedented uncertainty.

The recent outbreak triggered one of the sharpest equity market routs in recent times. The Eurozone economy is projected to shrink by 1%, with some suggesting this could reach 2.5%. The threat of the Eurozone being pulled into a recession is evident. Monetary and fiscal policymakers are working to ensure certain measures aimed at supporting the economy are enabled, however, the impact of the global health crisis will, unfortunately, be felt by all.

During such times we must all adapt. Organisations must adopt a proactive approach to talent management to ensure they remain competitive – one that increasingly relies on people and their ability to lead during such uncertain times.

In this article we look to (i) address some of the key behaviours which must emerge from those in a position of leadership during times of crisis and (ii) re-address how we are assessing talent to ensure we have the right people, in the right positions, supporting businesses throughout these unsettling times.

Decisive Action

For many, the current crisis is unlike any other seen in a generation. The sheer unpredictability of the outbreak presents further challenges; how do senior leaders respond and how will they negotiate many of the historical processes currently in place to ensure they effectively navigate the precarious path ahead? A pre-defined plan is not the answer. Leaders must act decisively to reduce levels of anxiety within their teams; they must also consider the long-term consequences of their decisions. How will their resulting actions impact their legacy? What will their future leaders inherit in the wake of such a crisis?

In this article we outline four key behaviours which can help leaders during such a turbulent period:

Elevating team members – Highlight colleagues who can drive the organisation’s response, empowering them to design a framework for decision making, one where accountability is clear. Such deputies must learn quickly, stay calm and must project optimism and confidence whilst remaining alert to the nature of the crisis to ensure they retain credibility. Strength of character quickly emerges as a valuable asset in such a situation;

Assessment & Action – Deferment and being reliant on one’s instinct during times of crisis; the hallmarks of failure. Rather than act on impulse, leaders must regularly collate facts and figures, assessing and acting accordingly, whilst monitoring the response of their actions. Such an approach does not eliminate the need to act quickly, however, allowing time to reflect enables leaders to remain composed, whilst assessing information in real-time. Such an approach will result in a response based on what lies in front of them, utilising their knowledge from past experiences;

Empathy – At such times, team members may revert to more basic or instinctive fight or- flight reasoning, thinking of their own survival. Leaders must acknowledge this, understanding how the current state of play affects each team member differently. The stress response of a single parent concerned over balancing the impact of school closures with managing their career, versus the expat who fears for the well-being of their family back home, will vary. Leaders must remain alert to this, acknowledging the challenges that employees experience during a crisis;

Communication – At such times, leaders may provide an overly positive response, displaying excessive confidence despite the obviously difficult conditions. Such communication can lead to a loss of credibility. Also, leaving employees in the dark whilst facts and information are collated breeds greater levels of fear and uncertainty in the ranks. Leaders must be transparent; they must communicate frequently, and they must be honest about the current state of play; what is known and what needs to be explored further. Enact such an approach to provide reassurance to the team.

Future Leaders

Whilst re-addressing what is important in a leader during times of crisis, senior officials must also adopt a renewed approach to talent identification and development. They must be aware of the teams capabilities, whilst ensuring they onboard new talent in the areas where the function is struggling. Attracting talent at this time is a challenge given many will be fearful of redundancy; very few will be considering an external move. Regardless, addressing the needs of the team at such a time is paramount, irrespective of the size of the talent pool available. Traditional methods of evaluating talent, focusing primarily on experience levels and technical skillset will not safeguard the function against future risk. Re-prioritising our focus will allow leaders to on-board those with a fresh perspective and a skillset which will complement the team, thus enabling the function to navigate the inevitable period of change which lies ahead.

Individuals must ensure they promote certain qualities to ensure they remain competitive in a rapidly changing and uncertain market. We outline four key behaviours which professionals must promote, and leaders must prioritise at interview during this turbulent period:

Drive – A desire to succeed and a determination to help align the team with the organisations’ crisis action plan is key. An ability to remain both calm and adaptable, whilst demonstrating a strength of purpose;

Inquisitiveness – Imaginative and curious, with a desire to seek new learning and understanding, whilst possessing an openness to feedback;

Awareness – An ability to gain an accurate understanding of the situation at hand, collating information from a variety of sources which will help shape insights, thus reducing ambiguity;

Engagement – At times of uncertainty, organisations must remove the belief that a top-down response will produce stability. Highlighting those at all levels who can relate and connect with team members on a deeper level, inspiring those around them not only to execute their role responsibilities but also find purpose in their position will increase levels of engagement within the team. A collected response is what organisations will need to ensure they effectively manage the impending risks ahead.


The impact of the coronavirus is having a profound impact on the global economy, its consequences could last for longer and present greater difficulties than anyone anticipates. Such crisis moments present opportunities for individuals to excel.

The prolonged uncertainty of the current pandemic re-enforces the need for leaders to adapt, to be quick thinking, to ultimately upgrade the historic processes which they have been reliant on for so long. Leaders must embrace the practices detailed in this article. For those who do, they will have a profound impact on establishing new behaviours and values within their organisation. More importantly, how they respond will have an overwhelming influence on the type of organisation which our future leaders will inherit in the years to come.

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