Seven Traits of extraordinary Crisis Leaders

The last 14 months have completely transformed every aspect of our personal and professional lives. We have lost friends, relatives, acquaintances to COVID-19. The general exuberance of normal living has been replaced by uncertainty and fear. Being born in India, the horrific dance of death that is in full-swing in India is affecting the very core of my existence. Daily calls with India-based extended family, worries about their well-being, news about shortage of oxygen, hospital beds and crematorium spaces trigger the feelings of impotent helplessness and mind-numbing pain.

Gaurav Rai: The Oxygen Man

However, amidst the horrific dance of death, pain and suffering, the indomitable human spirit still shines through every day leaders, who have taken the vow to serve and make a difference in the world around them. They have transcended personal pain, and courageously stepped up to do whatever they can to alleviate the pain and hopelessness all around them. This article is a tribute to those heroes. I also studied the story of each of the heroes and tried to distill common traits that made them successful. I believe that these traits can be developed by any one and we all can become heroes for the people around us. In fact, I believe that we are all called to be heroes in these circumstances and unless we heed to that calling, this would be crisis wasted and we would lose the opportunity of self-transformation during this journey.

Here are some of the heroes that stepped up and used this crisis to galvanize a movement to serve others. They could have just taken the easy road, of staying scared within their homes and ensuring that they are protected in the cocoon of perceived security. But, these heroes had hearts of steel and they went above and beyond to save lives.

Gaurav Rai “The Oxygen Man”: An ordinary 52 year-old man living an ordinary life got transformed into an extra-ordinary hero as he faced his impending death due to COVID-19 and lack of oxygen. During the first wave of COVID-19 last year, Gaurav was rushed to a hospital in Patna, India but could not get a bed or oxygen. After a frantic search over the next 5 hours, his wife was able to procure oxygen privately and that oxygen cylinder breathed life into Gaurav. After recuperating, Gaurav could have sat at home, grateful for his life being saved and ensuring that he did not take any more risk to put his life in danger. But, that is not what he did. He took upon the mission to help others with oxygen and save their lives without charging anything. Since that time, he has saved the lives of more than 950 patients. Every day, from morning 5:00am to late night, his only mission is procure oxygen cylinders and get them to the COVID patients on the verge of death.

Basira Popul: The polio worker from Afganistan could not continue the polio vaccination program because of COVID’s social distancing directives. She and her team decided to go door to door distributing soaps and teaching about hygiene as a strategy to prevent the spread of Corona. She has distributed more than a million bars of soap during the last one year of pandemic.

There are hundreds of such heroes who stepped up, to take charge and made a human difference. There are five year olds who could have been orphaned, but they still have their parents alive because of heroes like Gaurav and Basira.

What is the common thread across all the stories? After looking at the stories, I have highlighted seven components that made them the hero of the hour. These traits transformed ordinary humans to extra-ordinary heroes. These seven components can be traced in every leader and if consciously developed can make any one a leader during a crisis across any endeavor, whether in community, church or business. I call these seven components as the 7Cs of leadership under crisis. They are shared in brief below:

1. Calmness or Composure: When everyone is losing their cool and getting frantic, it is important to have composure and calmness during a moment of crisis. We all can connect to our inner calmness during the toughest of the times, by controlling our breath and acceptance of the current reality. An attitude of detachment coupled with an optimistic outlook helps us to stay calm and composed. Calmness allows us to analyze the situation and helps us to devise strategies to solve the problem.

2. Courage: The most critical trait that separates crisis leaders from others is their courage to take actions against heavy odds. Courage doesn’t mean absence of fear, courage refers to the ability to take the next steps while acknowledging and accepting fear. If look at the finest moments of world history, you will find in it a moment of supreme courage. It is because of courage that a David can take on a Goliath.

3. Compassion: Compassion is the foundation of selfless servant leadership. Unless you feel moved by the pain and suffering of others, you would not be able to generate the energy required to make a difference. Compassion creates the energy and desire to take action.

4. Confidence: Confidence is the belief that one has the ability to create change. It is not something that we are born with. Confidence is like a muscle, the more we use it, the stronger it becomes. Confidence starts by strengthening our belief in our abilities. In the beginning, most of us don’t have great leadership skills. But, as we start with confidence and continue the leadership journey through successes and failures, it strengthens our confidence further. No matter, how moved we are by others’ pain and suffering, unless we are confident that a difference can be made and the fact that we have the ability to make that difference, we would not take the first step.

5. Commitment: All big changes require tons of time and effort to be invested, before you can see any tangible result. It is easy to lose hope if the initial efforts don’t result in success. To weather the storms of disappointment, deep level of commitment is required to sustain efforts over long periods. Unless there is an unyielding commitment to the cause, it is impossible to make any tangible difference in the world around.

6. Connection: No dream can be achieved without a great team. To facilitate co-operation and support from others, people need to connect with the mission and the leader. Unless there is deep level of human connection, no big mission can be achieved. Every leader who has made a difference has displayed a strong character and dedication to the mission. An enthusiastic commitment to a worthy cause connects hearts, thereby changing destinies one soul at a time.

7. Completion: Dreams remain dreams till they are executed with determination. To realize big dreams, there needs to be a working plan followed by consistent actions. Great books are written one word at a time and great masterpieces are created one stroke at a time. A leader must be focused on completion of each of the small steps in the plan. It is the completion of small activities that can create the momentum. It is important to help one person, before helping the second or the hundredth. Unless, there is a plan and execution of the steps, all the emotions and the connections of the world would not be able to create lasting momentum and success.

Currently, the world is at cross-roads. COVID-19 seems to be under control in some parts of the world, while it is still a ravaging inferno in other parts of the world. We are facing a new normal that is permanently changing the way we work and operate. This calls for new leaders and new approaches to leadership in order to transform and make a difference in the new world.

What can we do to lead the change around us? What component of the seven C’s are we good at? Can we use the above formula to make a small change towards a better tomorrow? Every movement starts with one change and each one has the seed to be that change agent. There is a call for leadership at all levels in the new world. Let us embrace the new normal, understand the changes required for the new world and take one small step towards making a better world for others, one person and one action at a time.

Please share your thoughts and ideas and let me know if know if I missed any component or if there are any additional inputs.