Regression: The Leadership Crucible of Coronavirus

The Covid-19 pandemic emerged to be many things, including a crucible for leaders. Warren G. Bennis has said that such experiences shape a leader and, “Great leaders are not born but made—often by tough, bitter experience.”

How do we lead effectively when everything is unstable, in flux and changing on a daily basis?

The guidance of the Situational Leadership® Model for leaders is as relevant and rock-steady as ever.

Through the research and work of Dr. Paul Hersey, we know that Performance Readiness® is made up of ability and willingness. Regression happens when the performance of a person for one or more tasks slips in some shape or form, and this is often due to unanticipated or unwelcome change.

Approximately 70% of the population is change-averse to a measurable degree. When one or more stable elements of a situation are disrupted, this adversity manifests as insecurity and unwillingness. Distractions abound and engagement teeters. It is a natural response that precipitates widespread regression.

How To Handle Regression In Times of Change

William James of Harvard uncovered that “If motivation is low, an employee’s performance will suffer as much as if ability were low.” The following are tried-and-true steps the leader can take to stop the slide and coach for a turnaround.

Treat the Person at His or Her Current Performance Readiness® Level for Each Task

Right now, even your most solid team members are doing old tasks in new ways. Situations are not as they were, so your leadership style should not remain as it was in those situations. It will do no good to insist they, “Come back over here!” when they have clearly moved away from where you last met them for their tasks. Imagine walking over to that person and having a calm conversation, looking into their eyes, reading their body language and allowing them to see yours. What could you say? “I am here. What do you need? What would be most helpful for you right now? Here’s what I think will help, what we know, what is true. Let’s check in on these things by video chat again tomorrow.”

Make the Intervention as Quickly as Possible

Turning a blind eye and hoping they snap out of it are recipes for disaster, not strategies for success. If some have kept a stiff upper lip during change, that can only last so long. As Brené Brown, Simon Sinek and others have shown us through their research, vulnerability and honesty in a psychologically safe environment while keeping the why squarely in view alongside attainable objectives, is the recipe to regain success and engagement.

There are Times to Keep the Intervention Private

You might take the person aside or make a call in which you will communicate genuine care, your full attention and the most relevant information you currently have to offer.

There are Times to Have an Intervention With the Whole Team Together

Sharing information with everyone at once communicates that everyone matters and is equally important, as well as equally informed. Follow up with time for the team to ask questions transparently in front of each other and to hear your unveiled answers. This will build trust and cultivate stability.

Use Emotion Appropriately

This situation isn’t any one person’s fault so there is truly no one to react to or blame. You may feel a pull to one of two extremes: getting upset or angry or becoming despondent or entirely absent. Be visible, be available and be grounded in truth. Set your sights on the horizon and keep an even keel.

Listen Actively

Managers who are great coaches are continually curious and learn most when they pay attention to words, attitudes, concerns, tone and body language. Welcome honesty. Listen for inflated fears and gossip and respond with questions that will help them identify as well as voice for themselves truth and fact. Coming to these on their own, rather than being told by you, will bring deeper perspective and calm.

Express Appropriate Concern

People will need a safe place to vent and they need a time limit on such conversation. Model diligence by mutual accountability for deliverables ahead. Work will act as the focus and stabilizing force for many that will help them find a calm current beneath choppy seas.

Check Yourself First

Before engaging with those looking to you for influence, have your own time of meditation, self-reflection and venting to trustworthy confidants. With regression, slippage to R3 for tasks is best met by an increase of support first. Be filled so that you can give out of overflow to those who need you. Recognize that when anxiety lands more heavily on a follower than anticipated, an increase of direction can be valuable, even to a person who is normally a self-sufficient high performer.


  1. Which one of these proven tactics will you put into play today? Just one will bring you focus as well as more effective influence with your team in their situation.
  2. Which one do you need from someone with influence over you? If not your manager, which peer or colleague (your spouse or partner) can you alert to your need today?