How to lead effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic

Claire Dale, tutor and Leadership Programme Director at RADA Business, offers expert advice on how leaders can remain calm and lead effectively in times of crisis, by building upon the techniques used by world-leading actors

Whilst much of the world continues to adapt to life in lockdown, there’s a growing need for leaders in the public sector to continue to rise to the evolving challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic. It’s expected that leaders not only respond appropriately but do so calmly and compassionately.

RADA Business’ latest research report, Thinking on Your Feet, reveals that as many as 81% of senior leaders struggle to stay level-headed in stressful situations, and 40% of those working in the public sector admit that high-pressure working conditions make it difficult for them to think clearly.

By building on techniques used by some of the world’s leading actors in times of crisis, those working in public sector roles can enable themselves to remain calm and communicate effectively in the face of stressful situations. Especially those who are delivering the response to COVID-19, from community leaders to the Government’s key policymakers.

Claire Dale, tutor and Leadership Programme Director at RADA Business, shares techniques to equip senior leaders with the skills to deliver clear and authoritative leadership during this pandemic, to help manage nerves, and to deliver reassurances to people. The key to success lies in the fundamental tools of human communication; use of the body, the breath and the voice.

Ground yourself

‘‘In these unusual times it’s more important than ever to understand how to assert authority through an embodied approach, whilst remaining compassionate, using body language, posture and voice to express yourself. Being grounded means taking support from the floor that is beneath us, feeling it rise to meet us, to give us a sturdy platform on which to stand our ground and own our space. Rather than trying to control, this sense of grounding helps us to simply let go and release tension to help us relax. From this strong position we can unlock the ankle, knee and hip joints, then release shoulder and neck tension and breathe freely. Sit or stand tall, easy and expansive, with your spine long and your head lightly suspended. Imagine you are being gently pulled up by an imaginary string from the base of your skull.’’

Release physical tension

“The stress of navigating the evolving challenges of the coronavirus pandemic may be making it difficult to think clearly and formulate appropriate responses during important meetings, or conference calls. To help us relax and promote clarity of thought, we should take a moment to loosen up and release physical tension before we begin.

“Slowly bring your arms up over your head, have a good stretch here and then shake them out as you bring them back down to your sides. Roll your shoulders back in slow circles and gently tilt your head from side to side, before allowing yourself to enjoy a big yawn to get the muscles of your face working. By releasing physical tension in this way, we are able to relax, which in turn will help us to prepare our thoughts and deliver what we have to say with clarity and a strong voice.”

Connect with others

“Whether addressing a room either virtually or face-to face, or conversing one-to-one, eye contact is a staple for connecting with others. Be sure to maintain a good level of eye contact so that whoever you are addressing knows they have your full attention. A strong level of eye contact is a brilliant way of showing others that you’re comfortable and can handle the pressure of being in the spotlight, whilst also engaging with the person or people you are speaking to. If you are on a video call, a good tip is to look directly into the webcam whilst you are speaking and not at your own appearance; perhaps try to hide your self-view as several platforms allow. This will help you to land your message with your audience and take the attention away from yourself.’’

Listen

“At a time when people are looking to senior leadership figures for answers day-in-day-out, being able to respond appropriately and with clarity of message is crucial. Listen to others. As leaders, if we are uptight rather than grounded and released, those looking up to us may sense our tension and feel threatened, which could lead to them grabbing for control. Take a moment to listen to your peers, digest what has been said and then formulate a considered response. It’s important to appear calm to promote effective, distributed teamwork where creativity and collaboration can flourish and our teams can all work together towards a unified goal.’’

Breathe

“Breathing is a wonderful aid for calming nerves and asserting authority. Sometimes when we feel stressed or nervous, we rush our speech and take short, sharp gulps of air which isn’t conducive to a strong, controlled and empathetic voice. Remind yourself to speak slowly and breathe. Take a moment to prepare each thought with a deep breath into your belly – this pause will provide you with an opportunity to clearly formulate what you are about to say next, whilst also giving others a moment to digest your previous point. Slow and steady breathing not only calms nerves and reduces anxiety, but it also helps to connect the breath to the voice, giving the voice greater depth and resonance. This is a well-known practice for conveying authority and letting others know that you are in control – it’s a technique that actors have been using for centuries.”

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