Asking for help is a powerful interpersonal tool that leaders and individuals can use effectively, leveraging on existing inter-personal equations
As the COVID-19 crisis deepens, the dependence on good leadership and leaders grows. In a prolonged crisis and one of the pandemic proportions, we continue to need presence, visibility, and clarity from our leaders. But there are other traits that also come into focus.
Prime Minister Modi’s first address to the nation displayed the kind of leadership that is the need of this time. Not only was he visible and present to 1.35 billion Indians, he engaged with citizens at a personal level. As behove a leader in crises, he was clear and concise in his message and call to action. However, by appealing to each one of us directly and individually, he went beyond and displayed other necessary leadership traits that leaders at every level can learn from. He asked for help from his citizens, directly, simply and personally. Asking for help is a powerful interpersonal tool that leaders and individuals can use effectively, leveraging on existing inter-personal equations.
A one-day voluntary curfew was the first ask. He called it a “practice drill” indicating more would come. An individual act of all citizens, by all citizens and for all citizens. The next ask, a week later was again personally made, “I said I needed a few weeks of your time and now I ask you for 21-days of your life to save all lives.” He went on to say that if we are healthy, the whole world is our oyster. And to save lives we need to stay home in complete lockdown, for the next three weeks. Like a seasoned leader he painted the big picture and showcased collective good as a positive outcome of individual actions.
In the first address he called for “Resolve” and “Restraint” by every citizen, asking them to pay it forward and take on a leadership role individually. Resolve to self-protect and alongside protect others; and use restraint to do so by practicing social distancing and staying within the confines of our homes. If in pandemic times each of us can be a leader, then this is the time to stand up and be counted by displaying such behavior.
In the second address calling for a 21-day full lockdown, initially self-driven and implemented, he again called for this leadership in every citizen. Like all inclusive leaders he put the onus of his team, his people and he emphasised our collective responsibility. How long this crisis lasts and how sever it is will depend on what we do so the ask is to be responsible individually and collectively or the consequences will be both unimaginable and devastating. Resilience therefore is the need of this time, not panic, not irresponsibility, not ignorance, not fake news or fear. Sign posting cause and effect, individual responsibility and collective action, is another good leadership practice on display.
A few days later, not taking his citizens or their efforts for granted, the PM, apologized, for hardships caused, especially to the urban poor who are displaced and disenfranchised further due to the loss of livelihoods and homes, by the sudden lockdown. He thanked both health workers and citizens for doing their bit and more. And then again, in recent video message he both motivated and prescribed what citizens need to keep doing. In between, he reached out to all Chief Ministers (other leaders) and got their buy in for the current and urged them to think beyond the lockdown to exit strategies and contingency planning. He called upon religious leaders and other social influencers including celebrities, to spread this message amongst their followers, exhorting people to stay home and follow guidelines.
In other words, he displayed textbook leadership behaviors in times of crises. He made it personal and each person accountable. Alongside, he made it about all citizens: “there is no force greater than our collective enthusiasm and contribution”. Leaving nothing to chance he got the buy in of other leaders of the Union of India as well as reached out to the influencers, to use their influence to good effect. Most recently, he and his cabinet along with the President and Governors of states, took a voluntary pay cut, leading from the front in the march to save both lives and livelihoods.
For positive reinforcement, so necessary in this time of uncertainty and anxiety, he asked for a collective and symbolic gesture of lighting a billion lamps on 5th April to dispel the darkness and reaffirm our faith that together we will overcome.
Crises it is said bring out the truth about us and others, about individuals and societies. What is this crisis going to say about India and Indians? What will we learn about ourselves, our organizations, our teams, our friends and family, through this? How will we judge our leaders, their actions, their foresight or lack of it? How tall will we stand on the other side of this pandemic war? For on the other side we will be, one day, someday, depending on what we do and whether we all share the accountability. Can we find our better selves in this journey? A stronger, healthier more united world, nation, society, family, organization? Only time will tell. But in the interim we have a clear path to walk on and a billion lamps to light.