The Psychology of Leadership During COVID-19 Outbreak

The Psychology of Leadership During COVID-19 Outbreak
Published March 13, 2020
Author: Amir Baddour
Source: Linkedin

It is evident that the corona virus has reached a critical phase where the global economy has been disrupted. In a study conducted by Mckinsey, the estimated GDP in 2020 for Middle East & North Africa is estimated at -18% in a quick recovery scenario and -49% in a global slowdown scenario that would affect small and mid-size companies.

In a survey conducted for over 600 companies in the US, 75% are facing disruptions in their supply chains and as a result 1 out of 6 companies are adjusting revenue targets.

While service sectors, including aviation, travel, and tourism, are likely to be hardest hit, the consumer goods sectors will face a steep drop in consumer demand, and the Oil & Gas for instance which will be adversely affected as oil prices stay lower than expected until Q3.

Psychological Perspective

The psychological implications however have not been systematically studied and it is anticipated that COVID-19 will have rippling effects with raising concerns of widespread panic and increasing anxiety.

So which personality disorders are the most vulnerable?

Anxiety and Compulsive Disorders: The absence of a definitive treatment for COVID-19 easily exacerbates anxiety which increases unwanted contamination obsessions, cleaning and washing compulsions, and sensory experiences (feeling dirt on skin) which has been found in up to 75% of people with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).

Psychotic Disorders: Repeated media exposure coupled with a distrust of organizations and governments can easily lead to conspiracy theories, and misattribution of physical symptoms which can result to delusions and fears that can quickly lead to clinical decompensation.

At the intersection of psychosis and obsessiveness is delusional parasitosis known as hypochondrial psychosis. Essentially, the person believes that he is infected with an organism that evades detection and treatment and, thus, causes continuous suffering.

However, only 2.3% of the population have severe OCD, and around 1% suffers from a major psychotic disorder. While there is no need to panic, individuals with stable mental health are also prone to develop symptoms that might or might not be problematic. Having high self-awareness of own behavior decreases the likeliness of the risks associated with constant exposure to stress and anxiety.

Within an organizational context, what is the role of Leaders & HR personnel?

1-     Keep Calm

A leader’s role is to reflect confidence and emotional stability when faced with ambiguity. Employees well-being and emotional states rely on that of the leader, and people who are prone to Obsessive, Anxious, Hysteric, and Psychotic behaviors are the first ones to be affected.

2-     Maintain Productivity

Individuals who are most vulnerable to stress are possibly the first to lack motivation, have uncontrolled worries, increased anxiety levels and difficulties in coping with job demands. A leader’s role is to adequately assess his team, identify people with the least coping with stress abilities and reinforce factual, logical, and rational ways of thinking.

3-     Embrace a virtual way in Talent Management

The constant and rapidly changing situation of COVID-19 has highlighted the need for all organizations to adapt a remote work model which will evidently have an impact on talent management. Competencies such as digital readinessadaptability and agility might take precedence in the coming months.

Rasd Leadership Consulting & Talent Management during crisis

Talent requirements during COVID-19 crisis are unlike any previous year. Individuals are prone to psychological distress and emotional instability, organizations that are not recognizing and planning their talent pipeline efficiently are already falling behind with motivation & engagement levels decreasing, employees’ sick leaves increasing, and eventually revenues diminishing.

With access to virtual assessment platforms and online interviewing, Rasd amplified its readiness in supporting businesses adapt to change by providing C-Suite and Mid-Management assessments targeted on detecting coping with stress mechanisms (such as anxiety & emotional stability), and remote working competencies (such as agility & adaptability) to ensure organizations are well prepared in facing this pandemic and leaders are well aware of their human capital potential & associated risks.

Bringing it all together

The current COVID-19 outbreak is spurring fear on an individual & societal level, it is the role of leadership to contextualize and regulate behaviors.

We might as well learn about leadership from world leaders as described by Forbes “China showed benefits of decisive action with what the World Health Organization called perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history. Italy on the other hand demonstrated perils of slow response and lack of coordination. ”

“The true test of leadership is how well you function in a crisis” – Brian Tracy

It is crucial to remember that it’s not the outbreak that emerges leaders. The latter is always there, and the crisis simply operates as a platform through which it could be expressed.

To learn more on Rasd Leadership Consulting and our innovative approach to assessments, please send your queries to