When I began crafting this blog post, I was considering the leadership qualities necessary to navigate through the growing issue of university turnarounds. With declining enrollments and rising costs, many university leaders find their respective institutions in dire straits.

Well, little did I know just how complicated the university leadership role could be during a pandemic like the coronavirus. During this pandemic, I’ve remained engaged with campuses across the nation while picking the brains of leaders. I’ve learned that universities are being forced to take swift action as their academic leaders traverse uncharted waters. To come full circle, in analyzing both academic turnaround leadership and leadership during a pandemic, it’s clear that similar attributes are required among the two.

In leading during a pandemic, you must take action to address several key areas:

1. As a leader, you must remain grounded, centered, and calm while maintaining your authenticity. Consciously revisit your core values, make healthy choices, and reflect/reconnect with your inner being. After all, a clear mind will allow you to make rational decisions that accommodate your employees while keeping them safe, healthy, and productive. In leading by example, you must SHOW your employees how to conduct themselves during this difficult time.

2. As a leader, you must engage with your team while maintaining an open line of communication, even with the future being unpredictable. As a leader, you must balance empathy with hope and a vision for what is possible. Along the way, it is imperative to connect and communicate with your employees. Despite the chaotic nature of this pandemic, you must find time to regularly engage your associates using a safe, effective approach. Schedule frequent Skype sessions with your employees to emphasize your commitment to helping them through this difficult time. As an ongoing practice, regularly send personalized emails to your associates individually while learning about their interests, values, passions, and motivators.

3. You must provide direction or vision that will help the organization effectively handle the current circumstances, stay productive, and achieve results. First, clearly define the state of the organization before the pandemic hit. Then, establish specific, realistic objectives to be reached during the pandemic. Finally, bring it all together by finetuning a multi-step vision to take effect following the conclusion of the pandemic, whenever that may be. Even with so many unknowns, you must provide high-level direction that provides the organization with hope for the future.

To summarize, leaders across the globe are being challenged to keep their employees calm, engaged, and productive during the coronavirus pandemic. This is especially challenging because of the need for isolation to protect one another. However, it is important to view these challenges as opportunities for personal growth and professional improvement. To stay competitive and relevant during this pandemic, you must be open to organizational changes that will help accommodate your employees while keeping them productive.