#LockdownLeadership Blog 2: ‘Human leaders’

The #LockdownLeadership series is a collection of anonymous blogs about leadership during these uncertain times. Share your leadership journeys: confessions… conversations… celebrations… challenges… Reflect on your moments of: courage… compassion… clarity… craziness… Email 500 words to hello@hannah-wilson.co.uk to be shared in this safe space. 

I watch in admiration as my former colleagues and peers navigate the chaos of lockdown.

I was once there, leading an organisation, leading a team, leading a community. I stepped out, I chose a different path; I didn’t intentionally choose to step out of the eye of the storm, to step aside and dodge the turbulence.

Would I have stayed in role a little while longer had I have known what was coming, what was approaching around the corner? How would my leadership training have prepared me for this?

Which experiences from my career would I be drawing on? Which resources in my toolkit would I be utilising? Which of my network would I be leaning on? Which of the experts would I be listening to?

To be a leader is to be responsible, to be accountable, to be liable. The weight of decision-making is heavy. It is the stuff of restless nights, tossing and turning, rolling ideas around and over, again and again in your head.

To be a leader is to be visible, to be exposed, to be scrutinised under a spotlight. All eyes are on you, seeking clarity, courage and conviction.  The burning gazes penetrate your skin.

To be a leader is to be vulnerable, to be isolated, to be alone. The emotional load is intense as you check in on everyone. Carrying the physical and the emotional safety of a community takes its toll.

To be a leader is to be human, to be flawed, to be fallible. We are all capable of making mistakes. Leaders do not stop being capable of this, when they step up to lead, they are not given a pass.

To be a leader is to be judged, to be critiqued, to be questioned. There is little preparation for this. Experience toughens you up, surviving each incident adding another protective layer to your armour.

To be a leader is to be uncomfortable, to experience difficulty, to be stuck between a rock and a hard place.  You listen to advice, you discuss the options, you consider the consequences. You sit with your decisions and their impact.

The discourse exploring leadership knowledge, leadership skills, leadership expertise versus leadership behaviours, leadership qualities, leadership intuition has momentarily gone quiet. Being an expert in a facet of leadership is not what is needed right now. The conflict between the head and the heart of leaders is being won by compassion and intuition.

There are few leadership development courses focused on navigating uncertainty: how to lead an organisation in crisis, how to stabilise a community post-trauma, how to lead a team virtually. Leaders are not robots, they are humans, they are emotionally-intelligent not artificially-intelligent. You can’t pre-programme leaders to respond in a particular way. Unprecedented times and unpredictable variables need leaders with values, with heart, with compassion to listen to their intuition and feel their way.

Lockdown leadership is about being humans, in all its messy glory. Human leaders who can respond quickly to rapid change, human leaders who can stay standing in a destabilising environment. The leaders who will survive and who will thrive in lockdown, are the leaders who know who they are, who know their values, who know their teams and their communities.

Let’s all remember that leaders are human the next time we are quick to judge those who are leading and let’s remind ourselves to show our leaders the empathy, the compassion and the respect that they are showing their communities during these difficult times and beyond.


Published by Ethical Leader

Leadership Development Consultant, Facilitator, Coach, Speaker and Writer. Experience of teaching schools, initial teacher education, mentoring & coaching, diversity and equality. Passionate about integrity, ethics and values.

2 thoughts on “#LockdownLeadership Blog 2: ‘Human leaders’

  1. Whatever your leadership is like in “normal” times becomes amplified in crisis: the clear, decisive, compassionate and grounded leaders are drawing upon these qualities and skills. They are looking to the tools they already have, the ones they learned in the most useful situations or courses. And are deploying them. And of course the leaders who keep their learning in their heads but don’t practise it, the ones who relied on what they know rather than their skills, or the ones who went on the courses and thought that was enough (I think of that like buying a bottle of bleach and leaving it in the cupboard thinking that’s the job done) well they will be the ones struggling right now. I agree, there may be no courses teaching how to deal with a global pandemic but I’m proud to witness some amazing leadership at the moment. Leaders actually using what they’ve learned already. I take my hat off to them.


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