Developing Leadership in a Crisis

April 21, 2020

No one knows how the coronavirus pandemic will evolve, how long the economy will stay underwater, or even what recovery looks like. 

But the radical workplace upheaval and sudden ad hoc shift to remote technology over the past month suggest two truths: 

  1. We need more tech talent.  
  2. We need better leadership—especially IT leadership.

Demand for Technology and Tech Talent Will Grow More Rapidly

Rewriting the rules for the digital age, a 2017 DeLoitte study of workforce talent, states 67 percent of CEOs believe technology will drive a higher value than people will. Against the current backdrop of human tragedy and global instability, such a finding feels distasteful, antisocial, inhumane and wrong. Who knows what that number would be if the survey were retaken today?

Higher, probably. Consider the entire meaning of value: not just its economic sense, but as that which offers utility to human life. Like an autonomic nervous system, our tech infrastructure is now largely responsible for the continued functioning of the economy while simultaneously playing the hero’s role in slowing the spread of the virus. If people still somehow think everyone’s overreacting to COVID-19, they can thank technology for their cognitive error. Digitally mediated social distancing is what has allowed us, so far, to keep coronavirus merely a leading cause of death in America, rather than the leading cause. (Imagine how awful this would be if this all happened 40 years ago, when telecommuting was unheard of and the entire Nintendo-less neighborhood allegedly played outside until the old-time neon street lamps began to glow?)

Technology, if we use it to help us become better, more socially responsible versions of ourselves—rather than stubborn, enraged bigots—and if we can guide its innovations toward the greater good—rather than the will to power—technology appears the thing most likely to save us.

The IT Workforce Gap Is Probably Going to Widen

As companies fortify their online presence, we’ll need more web developers. We’ll need more software engineers and back-end developers to build and maintain virtual solutions. We’ll need UX designers and QA personnel and data scientists to tell us what’s working.

As organizations decentralize their operations in service of social distancing that could last until 2022, cybersecurity, always a known issue, will become truly paramount. (Remember how proper handwashing, long understood but not universally followed, suddenly turned non-negotiable? In the COVID-19 times, lax security will prove as taboo as lax hygiene.) So we’re also going to need security analysts, security administrators, security engineers, security software developers, cryptopgraphers and cryptanalysts. 

As governments, nonprofits, NGOs, research institutions, and companies try to better understand the pandemic, they’ll be dealing with massive, mind-crushing amounts of data. That means we’re going to need more data scientists and intelligence analysts to help us build predictive models to guide policy, and crucially in a pandemic, tell the story of the data to a skittish public.

It takes time to develop the skill set required for tech. While many will find it easier than they expected to learn various methods of web and software development, more math-intensive positions like cryptographer and data scientist might take longer to get into for those who started later or who are not naturally gifted. That means workers will need to pursue job-training and additional education to build the requisite skills for tech, which could spell latency in the hiring process.

(Some good news for the locals: the Omaha area has phenomenal tech training and IT certification programs for people looking to switch careers or build in-demand skills. The federally accredited AIM Code School and the Omaha Data Science Academy come to mind. Also, the nonprofit AIM Institute offers a free tech navigator service to help guide individuals toward the tech resources, education, networking and employment opportunities that can improve their lives.)

The Need for Leadership Development

During all this turmoil, we’re going to need outstanding leadership development. 

Before the dust settles, many managers and managers-in-training will face shrinking staff, constrained budgets, and an excessively uncertain future. They will need to endure the personal and global challenges that will affect most of us, and they’ll need to telemanage their teams’ productivity and morale.

Teams will require highly competent, communicative, engaging and empathetic leaders that inspire confidence. Unfortunately, as an article in Human Resource Executive magazine notes, “companies know [that human capital is indispensable] given their continuous growing investment in leadership development over the past two decades. Yet over this same period, confidence in leaders has steadily declined.” We know that the less trust employees have in leadership, the worse their organization performs

Communication, resource optimization, consistent performance, mindfulness, empathy and personal efficacy—nothing erodes employee trust than a deficit in any of these essential leadership markers. Against the relentless, terrifying unknowns of the pandemic, an untrustworthy leader will sink a team quicker than an incompetent one. 

Organizations should, therefore, continue to invest in leadership development for their rising stars. This leadership education should be administered by a reputable organization and feature proven, high-performance managers from an array of companies and industries who can share their knowledge and help guide valuable problem-solving peer-to-peer discussion. Finally, students should graduate inspired, outfitted with practical knowledge, and welcomed into a valuable professional network that will provide long-term opportunities for collaboration and innovation.

After the dust settles, whenever that will be, we’ll encounter a landscape more reliant on technology than ever before. We hope as many people as possible can participate and thrive in that landscape. By paying careful attention to the world around us, taking care of one another in a storm, and cultivating the right leadership, we’ll be on our way to a stronger, better world. We have to do this. We don’t have a choice.

How Leadership Development Programs Can Help

Companies serious about leadership development should consider engaging their new, soon-to-be, and would-be managers in a leadership development program, such as the AIM Emerging Leaders Program. The Emerging Leaders Program, or ELP, addresses key areas of leadership development, including managing in a crisis, communicating effectively, building high-performance teams and cultivating relationships. As Silicon Prairie News has previously noted in an in-depth profile of two graduates, ELP helps leaders learn the skills they need to move up the ladder, secure higher positions in their companies and effectively manage teams. The 6-week 2020 Spring Session begins online May 7. Find out more here or contact Monika Philp at