People trust leaders who show they have “skin in the game” during a crisis, according to an expert at Rice University’s Doerr Institute for New Leaders.
Tom Kolditz, founding director of the Doerr Institute, is available to discuss what leadership can look like in the current climate.
“Whether you are coaching a formal leader in an organization, or you’re just trying to lead as a congregant in your church or a member of your family, the current pandemic makes you what I call an ‘in extremis’ leader,” Kolditz wrote in a Forbes contributor article.
Kolditz defines ‘in extremis’ leadership (Latin for “at the point of death”) as leading in conditions where decisions can influence people’s physical well-being or even survival.
According to Kolditz, times of uncertainty change what people expect from their leaders. “It’s a challenge for many leaders who, in more routine times, feel that they have to inject excitement or enthusiasm into a group,” he wrote. “People need a calming influence, not a motivating influence, when under threat.”
Kolditz argues that showing shared risk and common concerns strengthens a leader’s relationship with their group.
“In the current crisis, executive leaders fleeing to their vacation homes while their employees tough it out in the trenches is becoming a sad iconic image,” he said. “Leaders who do that are literally leaving their people behind and will need to repair a significant decrease in trust with the rank and file as a result.”
A retired brigadier general, Kolditz is the founding director of the Ann and John Doerr Institute for New Leaders, which was recognized in 2019 as the top university leader development program by the Association of Leadership Educators. Prior to Rice, Kolditz taught as a professor in the practice of leadership and management and was director of the Leadership Development Program at the Yale School of Management.