Everyone is a leader now

Woman working at table with her head in her hand

“What is my leader doing?” is a question you may find yourself asking right now, whatever level you are at in your organization. However, in times like these, it is helpful to re-frame this question and consider asking yourself, “What can I do to help lead?” During an unprecedented emergency situation like the one we’re in now, defined roles and responsibilities are less important than making sure what needs to be done is getting done, and that we are helping others where we can—both personally and professionally.

Leadership is most often defined as role-focused. But at its core, it’s a behaviour. When we look at our organizations through a leadership lens, we can see who steps up and takes responsibility regardless of title. They’re the people who sort out the fridge every week when everyone else avoids it, or those who put their hands up for committees, action groups, or extra tasks. They may not have the title of leader but they are, in fact, leading. These leaders are often referred to as ‘informal leaders.’

Informal leaders also can lead people away from productivity or impact the culture through negativity. They may have unfavourable stories gathered over the years that they share when new people come in with energy and excitement, or when a new change initiative is taking place. They have an impact on how others think about the organization, too.

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Here are some ways you can help lead others right now:

  • Be mindful about the stories you share—When we are scared or anxious, there can be a tendency to share stories that feed that anxiety. People often tell stories that focus on worst-case scenarios about our jobs, our health, and the world outside. Know this and push back by saying, “We don’t really know what will happen.” Gently advise the storyteller that it might create unnecessary worry to continue sharing. Try to find and share the more positive stories where you can and help people focus on the facts wherever possible.
  • Manage your own expectations of those above you—In challenging times, we want someone to tell us it will all be okay. And we might get frustrated at our bosses for not doing this right now. But the reality is they can’t. They don’t know what impact a pandemic will have on the business overall. They probably don’t even know what’s happening next week, given the speed at which things are changing. Right now—and for a few more months to come—remember your leaders are human too. Approach that relationship with empathy wherever possible.
  • Ask how you can help—Whether or not you want to advance to a specific position or a higher level of responsibility, this is the time to be helpful and show your leadership stuff. Leadership is not about telling people what to do, it’s about being helpful wherever and whenever you can. You may have skills beyond your job description that


At a time like this, whether we like it or not, everyone is a leader. We are all looking at each other for answers and no one has them all. So we have to manage ourselves and others as best we can until we all make it through to the other side. And who knows, maybe when things return to ‘normal,’ we all may see each other a little differently. That can mean a better culture overall; a higher willingness to work together. It can also mean the opportunity to move up for those who may not have previously been considered ‘leadership material,’ but who stepped up when it was most needed.

Susan Black

Lianne Picot

Learning Architect at The Niagara Institute

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