Five ways to provide strong team leadership during COVID-19

Provide strong team leadership

For business leaders, the COVID-19 pandemic is a genuine test of leadership. How can a leader create certainty for their employees in such an uncertain time? The Coronavirus has lockdown cities, left hundreds of thousands unemployed globally and created what will likely be the most devastating time in a generation. To say people are anxious is an understatement. Whether that be towards the virus itself or from the unprecedented economic damage we’re seeing, people are understandably more anxious than they have ever been.

The SCARF framework, created by neuroscientist David Rock, provides a very useful checklist for leaders to follow. It is based on people’s five needs to feel happy and productive at work:

SCARF framework

  • Status

Our need to feel that we and the work that we do is valued by our colleagues

  • Certainty

Our need to know what will happen next

  • Autonomy 

Our need to feel like we have some control over what we do every day

  • Relatedness 

Our need to feel like we are among friends – in a community

  • Fairness 

Our need to feel like we are fairly treated.

What does this mean for business leaders?


Status could be threatened if leaders pay more attention to some employees over others in this uncertain time. When discussing out updates on the business and teams, be cautious about mentioning one team over another which could create a negative reaction, especially in times when job loss is a main concern for people. It’s essential for leaders to plan what they are going to say to teams to ensure you do not leave your employee’s need for status threatened.


Creating certainty frequently is essential in a fluid situation like COVID-19. It’s critical that all team members have a clear understanding of the plan of action, especially when working from home. Simple questions will need answers and leaders will need to provide the answers.


Workplaces have suddenly been thrust into new and unexpected scenarios which can be very unsettling for employees. Being available to answer questions to create certainty is one thing, but leaders can’t do that 24×7. It is vital you make clear what people can decide for themselves. Some people will naturally decide what to do while others have a preference to have the parameters within which they work made clear for them.

Leaders must identify clear priorities for people to focus on for the week ahead, if not more often. It’s also important to explain when guidance must be sought and when each person can carry on without it. One study shows that feeling like we can make some autonomous decisions can increase motivation and engagement by up to five times – that’s an outcome worth delivering.

Relatedness or Inclusion 

Relatedness (otherwise known as inclusion) will be threatened if you don’t make regular contact with people and if you don’t create opportunities for social interaction between the team – even if it’s remote and virtual. You can still create the opportunity for more fun, non-work-related interaction. The negative side of relatedness is the feeling of exclusion. Leaders must make the effort to be in touch with all employees regularly to prevent this, and this will pay dividends in terms of staff morale and productivity.


It’s important to keep things as normal as possible and adopt a ‘business as usual’ approach even when working from home. Ensuring all employees have access to the same opportunities and platforms, even virtually, is important to ensure there are no feelings of unfairness. Including all team members in virtual conference calls and regularly communicating will keep everyone on the same page, everyone informed and no one feeling that they are being left out or excluded from the daily business tasks.

Business leaders who satisfy the five needs of SCARF will emerge from the challenges of this pandemic as stronger leaders with a stronger team.


Continue reading ‘Delay, Deny and Deflect’ – What not to do in a crisis.