Covid-19 is the greatest leadership challenge of our lifetime. For many organisations, their very existence depends on the skills and resilience of their leaders in the weeks and months ahead. Fortunately, leaders did not go into the pandemic completely unprepared. An entire industry of leadership development existed to train them for “disruption”, and there is nothing more disruptive than Covid-19. In recent years, this industry has grown massively — US companies alone spend more than $166 billion annually on leadership development.

But every industry, no matter how big, has its blind spots. Leadership development emphasises what I call “frontstage” leadership — the spotlight performances that help leaders influence and motivate others both within and outside their organisation. Relatively neglected, but no less important for the success of a strategy, is “backstage” leadership — steering organisational processes behind the scenes.

In Covid-19 times, frontstage leadership is indeed essential. Especially now, leaders need to communicate a strategy for recovery, project a strong sense of empathy, and so on. But without at least equal emphasis on the backstage half, no Covid-19 strategy will take hold smoothly.

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