By Segun Dipe
Brian Tracy, the famous motivational speaker, said that the true test of leadership is how well one functions in a crisis. His words haven’t resonated more than they do today as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the whole world, while turning conventional leadership strategies to foolishness.
Today, the competencies required are different from standard operating leadership protocols. Rather, it is about managing crisis and navigating through feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, and doom. The situation is however not entirely forlorn, as it is also a good time for the emergence of crisis leaders, who would need to show the world, that they are capable of weathering a storm by being decisive, being proactive, modelling expected protocol, engaging in open communication, and being ethical and empathetic.
As for Dr. John Kayode Fayemi, the governor of Ekiti State and Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, the most objective verdict any reasonable observer can give is that while he still has plenty to do, he is so far doing superbly well in meeting those parameters.
The ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is posing unprecedented challenges to leadership across the world. The pace at which policymakers, practitioners and researchers react to the emerging and complex crisis will make a profound difference to people’s lives and livelihoods. Recent experience highlights the need for adaptive leadership in national and global responses to the outbreak.
Amidst this global hoopla, one quality that is required more than any other as the new normal for a leader to possess is resilience. Resilience exists when a leader uses mental processes and behaviours in promoting his people, as well as protecting them from the potential negative effects of stressors.
In simpler terms, psychological resilience exists in people who develop psychological and behavioural capabilities that allow them to remain calm during crises and to move on from the incident without long-term negative consequences.
Dr. Fayemi falls in the category of these leaders. He is not a reckless leader. He has been extremely precautious since the news of the Coronavirus pandemic broke out. He was one of the governors to admit vulnerability early enough, when the hint of the COVID-19 dropped in Nigeria.
When he interacted with two top Federal Government officials who just came back into the country and had tested positive, he didn’t hide it. Rather, he surrendered self to be tested and he quarantined himself afterwards. Thrice he subjected himself to the test for assurance and reassurance.
Twice Fayemi tested negative, and when he eventually received a positive result on the third test, he did not hesitate to break the news. He went into self-isolation and did not come out until he had tested negative again. He did not just limit this to himself, as the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF, he implored his fellow governors and all those who attended the NGF meeting of March 18, 2020 to go for test and take other precautions. He also instructed members of his cabinet, and personal aides to go for the COVID-19 test.
According to the Ekiti State governor, his concern was not so much about himself, but was about those others who could be infected through him.
What is resilience and why is it that important at this period? It is the ability to withstand, recover, and bounce back amid stress, chaos, and ever-changing circumstances. Resilient people don’t dwell on failure, but rather acknowledge the situation, learn from the mistakes, and move forward.
A resilient leader is a person who sees failures as temporary setbacks they can recover from quickly. They maintain a positive attitude and a strong sense of opportunity during periods of turbulence. When faced with ambiguity, a resilient leader finds ways to move forward and avoids getting stuck. Many studies have indicated the importance of resilience as both an individual and leadership trait.
Leading for resilience is the antithesis of hunkering down and operating conservatively. It is about pushing out boldly, knowing that something somewhere is going to kick you in the teeth, and you need to be ready before it happens.
Throughout history, crises have been the breeding ground for individuals we later describe as great leaders. If the times make the leader, in many instances, those leaders emerge from unlikely places. Certain qualities stand them out. In the case of Dr. Fayemi, we may begin to study the Ekiti State governor for the following unique qualities:
Dr. Fayemi communicates powerfully and transparently. Resilient leaders are effective at communicating their intentions to others. They are willing to help others understand a new strategy or direction. Effective communication helps others understand changes, expectations and new directions.
Dr. Fayemi has proven to be both humble and coachable by persons and circumstances. Resilient leaders are open to feedback and often ask others for feedback. They have a strong desire to continuously improve their skills and abilities.
It requires positive relationships to get others to support change. Resilient leadership occurs when people can bring others along. By building trust and being open to differences, these leaders are able to create strong teams by building positive relationships. Ask those who know Fayemi well, and they will tell you that he is strong in this area.
Fayemi is a bold risk taker and this is a strong quality of resilient individual. It is easy for most individuals to be stuck in a rut in which they continue to conduct work in the same way from year to year. That approach works well until the world changes, requiring organisations to change or die. You will not find Fayemi among this lot.
Fayemi loves to develop others. Like most resilient leaders, he is not only interested in his own development, but is concerned about the development of others. Resiliency is needed when we encounter failure. Developing others helps everyone to learn from their mistakes. We continue to find that leaders who want feedback for themselves are more likely to give productive feedback and coaching to others, because they want honest feedback as well. That is Fayemi for you.
Fayemi is a champion of change. Change takes courage and requires a vision about where a people is going. Resilient leaders are willing to change and able to provide the leadership to ensure that the followers also change. Resilient leaders embrace change and also encourage others to change.
Fayemi is a decisive leader. He is swift and resolute. Making decisions is always difficult, because no person has all the data or understands all eventualities. But the people cannot move forward until a decision gets made. The most resilient leaders are effective at making decisions and moving forward. If they make the wrong decision, they are quick to make a different decision and move in another direction. The proverb by Cato “swift and resolute action leads to success; self-doubt is a prelude to disaster” fits well here.
While we celebrate individuals such as Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, to mention just a few, we should not forget that great leaders also appear on smaller stages. An understanding of how Dr. John Kayode Fayemi, governor of Ekiti State and Chairman of Nigerian Governors’ Forum has been trudging on, with the responsibilities of Ekiti on his head amidst the COVID-19 crisis, and with very limited resources to throw at it, will surely make one understand where he is coming from and what type of leadership he is providing this season.
*Dipe is the Senior Special Assistant, SSA to Governor Fayemi on Public Communications.