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Developing a shock leadership style that guides your organization during a pandemic

by Sara M. Johnson, FACHE

Leadership theories have been around for many years and are often based on societal norms and the evolution of how people prefer to work. We’ve had the Great Man Theory, Trait Theory, Contemporary Theories, Contingency Theories, and more.

The most recent theory being studied is Shock Leadership Theory. This latest theory is based on the leadership behaviors that are necessary to lead during the pandemic and other volatile, uncertain, chaotic, ambiguous situations — known as VUCA situations — we may face as leaders.

In 2007, Warren Bennis said he thought that two of the primary threats to world stability were leadership in the context of increased globalization and pandemics. As it turns out, he was correct. When he made that statement 13 years ago, he had no way of knowing that these two would intersect the way they have in 2020 nor that the Shock Leadership Theory would emerge.

While leadership theories continue to emerge, they tend to focus on the behaviors that leaders should exhibit. Our own leadership development pursuits lead us to programs that help us discover ways in which we can behave differently as leaders — how to be more empathetic, how to be more authentic, and how to lead with courage.

But what is it that drives our behaviors? Those behaviors are driven by who we are at our core — our values, our purpose, our heart. So, here is a question for you: Have you recently assessed your leadership core?

I expect many would answer that question with a yes. The pandemic, for all its challenges, has caused many leaders to become more thoughtful about what really matters in life. Leaders are reflecting on who they are, not just what they do.

Our values and who we are at our core drive our behavior and guide us to behave ethically, empathetically, and authentically. When VUCA situations arise, it is our values that are challenged and cause us to ask ourselves, “How should I lead in this situation?” Without clearly knowing our values and the direction those can provide, we can find ourselves adrift trying to navigate the waters of chaotic or uncertain organizational realities.

Our leadership experts at IU Executive Education have created the Holistic Leadership Series that is designed to be an individually transformative process. The series will feature one two-hour webinar on the fourth Wednesday of each month, beginning March 24 and ending Oct. 27. Beginning with the topic of “heart and spirit,” this global series examines a person’s core values, how those have developed over time, and how those values can serve them as they lead. Other topics will include embracive thinking, relational dynamics, and operational leadership.

We know transformative leaders are necessary in today’s unpredictable environment. To respond to this critical need, we have worked to ensure our global series will allow participants to interact with leaders from around the world and still be affordable for executives of all levels. The cost for this eight-part series is just $600. To find out more about the Holistic Leadership Series and to pre-register, visit the IU Executive Education website.

For more information about IU Executive Education, call 317-274-3418 or contact Sara Johnson directly via email.


To find out more about the Holistic Leadership Series and to pre-register, visit the IU Executive Education website.
IU Executive Education Holistic Leadership Series
2-hour webinar
4th Wednesday of each month, March 24-Oct. 27

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