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Leadership in a Pandemic

During historical moments of severe uncertainty, these are the tactics employed by the smartest companies to drive performance and development in a crisis.


Chief Executive | April 1, 2020


Chief Executive

The Chief Executive article, “Leadership in a Pandemic,” was written by Russell Reynolds Associates CEO Clarke Murphy, based on his letter of the same title and our paper, “Driving Leadership Performance and Development in a Crisis.” The article is excerpted below.

Pandemics are unlike any other challenge we face as leaders. There are no words to fully describe the feeling of dread when you find out one of your colleagues has fallen ill. There are also no words to describe the feeling of pride when you hear of a colleague going out of their way to help others in hard-hit areas of the world.

As a leader, you want to always have the right answers and know what to do, but these last few weeks have plunged many of us into a situation that most have never faced before, and one that lacks clear answers. I cannot help but think the best path forward right now is for senior leaders to share with their peers what they are doing to navigate this situation, and what they have learned from past challenges.

We recently published guidance on leading through uncertainty. I also wanted to share with you what we have seen successful leaders do to drive leadership performance and accelerate development in a time of crisis like this:

  • Take Note of What this Moment Reveals About Your Leaders: During the 2008-09 financial crisis, many companies found that a surprising share of their leaders were unwilling or unable to lead in a challenging environment. Many also found that they had underestimated leaders who stepped up in unexpected, critical ways. Take note of what this period reveals about your bench. The coming weeks will expose empty suits and surface hidden gems.

  • Play Offense and Defense: The biggest shifts in a sector’s competitive rankings occur during moments of uncertainty, including downturns. Defensive measures are essential, but the best leaders also think strategically about opportunities to go on the offensive. This lesson applies as much to talent strategy as it does to business strategy.

To read the full article, click here.

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Leadership in a Pandemic