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Now is the time to lead by example

We are in dire need of effective leadership says a DBS professor, who is acting to mobilise the research community for the benefit of all.

Alex Newman, a Professor in DBS’s Department of Management, is an active figure in the global leadership research community. His own research has focused on the positive impacts of leaders modelling ethical, creative and innovative behaviours.

Responding quickly to the COVID-19 crisis he has mobilised his fellow researchers to deliver two significant contributions to help guide leaders and enhance our understanding of leadership in times of crisis.

As section editor for leadership and ethics at the Journal of Business Ethics he has produced a Virtual Special edition of JBE focused on leadership in times of crisis. (Deakin students, alumni and staff can access this through the library)

On behalf of the Organisational Behaviour division of the Academy of Management he convened a panel of experts for a webinar that provides great insights and examples to inform leaders in these extraordinary times. View webinar here.

We asked Prof Newman some questions about leadership and his perspectives.

What do you see as the most critical actions for leaders in times like these?

I think it is critically important for business and political leaders to maintain regular and consistent communication with their employees and citizens around what they are doing to address the crisis. Leaders should also show empathy to those who are worse off than themselves and role model appropriate behaviours to their followers. 

What advice would you give to someone who has to lead a team or an organisation during this crisis?

  • Stay positive
  • Check in regularly with your subordinates
  • Understand that your subordinates may have different needs, especially as many will be working from home and have work-family issues to deal with
  • Develop a strategic plan to deal with short and medium/long-term priorities 
  • Empathize with your subordinates.

Isn’t a good leader just a good leader? Should leaders’ priorities change during crisis periods?

I think leaders' priorities do change as a result of crises. In the initial stages they need to focus on dealing with the immediate aftermath of the crisis and managing employees/citizens through this. They then need to develop long-term strategies to ensure business/economic continuity and deal with the long-term side effects of the crisis.

What’s your background in leadership? Why is this topic important to you?

I have researched the topic of how leaders influence employees and the factors that influence leadership effectiveness for the past decade. I have in particular focused on how leaders foster creativity and innovation and reduce unethical behaviour through role modelling and supporting employees. I am presently the section editor for Leadership and Ethics at the Journal of Business Ethics.

This topic is important for me as research has consistently highlighted the influence of leadership on employee attitudes and behaviours and organizational outcomes. At the present time I believe we are in dire need of effective leadership to ensure we are able to emerge out of this crisis in a positive manner within minimal damage to individuals, organizations and economies.

The special edition of Journal of Business Ethics – was this in the works in advance of the Covid-19 crisis? How did it come about?

This special virtual issue was developed immediately after the crisis. It came about as a result of me asking the editors as to what we might do to disseminate knowledge of how to lead ethically through the crisis.

Has the current crisis changed your perspective on leadership, or has it confirmed what you already understand? Is this the case across the field, or are new perspectives going to emerge?

I think the unprecedented nature of the present crisis has led me to re-evaluate the importance of leadership during the crisis. Leaders need to consistently adapt their leadership approach to deal with emerging issues, in other words they need to be ambidextrous, i.e. deal with immediate concerns but also develop long-term strategies for their organization to get through the crisis.

I feel we need more research on what constitutes effective management during crises. In particular, researchers should attempt to ascertain the effectiveness of different leadership approaches during different stages of crises. In addition, researchers should do more to understand how and why individuals' respond more of less positively to different leadership behaviours/approaches adopted during times of crisis.

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