There will always be a debate about which traits are most important for leading in a crisis – but two absolute essentials are compassion and courage, in that order.
For some leaders either or both of these qualities are fundamental aspects of their nature; they are part of their DNA. But ultimately, both compassion and courage are not a matter of genetics so much as they are a choice or a matter of the will. They can therefore be fostered or cultivated in leaders who do not naturally have these qualities.
Leaders in a crisis who lack compassion and courage can blame nobody but themselves. Both of these qualities are within their reach; they sit in their hearts. In a crisis, leaders choose to bring these qualities to the fore or lack the will to do so.
With every compassionate or courageous act, leaders develop their capacity to be more compassionate and courageous. They increasingly become the leaders their people need to be led by in a crisis.
Leaders who have compassion have strong feelings of sympathy and sadness for the misfortune of their people coupled with a desire to mitigate or alleviate their pain. Put simply, their hearts bleed for their people, not for themselves. Compassion in a leader is notable in the following respects:
Why is compassion of such significance? Because people’s need to be understood by their leaders and to feel that their leaders care deeply about what they are going through is amplified a thousand-fold in times of crisis – even if what the leader can actually do to help them is limited. Leaders who are indifferent to what their people are experiencing leave their people stone cold. Truly compassionate leaders, on the other hand, are not just liked but loved by those they lead.
Courage is not about thoughts and feelings but about words and deeds. Courageous leaders do the right thing in a crisis, no matter how difficult it is for them to do so. In plain language they face what needs to be faced and do what needs to be done for the greater good of others. Courage in a leader is notable in the following respects:
Why is courage of such significance? Because in times of peril and calamity, people need their leaders to be bold, to put themselves on the line. It helps them to do so also. Conversely when leaders are cowards they breed fear in their followers. Courageous leaders, on the other hand, make their people courageous. This earns them the trust and admiration of their people.
In essence, the leaders who are revered in a crisis are those who have both a soft and a brave heart.