Leadership during crisis
The pandemic has also layered on an enormous transitional challenge: the need to move from a shuttered economy, to a path towards growth and prosperity. This journey involves three phases: flatten, fight, and future.
Companies in many sectors will have to survive a brutal short term in order to access long-term options. But while survival may be top of mind today, thriving in the future is the long game. And this requires leaders to respond to a new environment, a new customer, and heightened societal expectations.
Bring everyone to the table
In difficult times, it can be tempting to move fast and make decisions without seeking input from others. Fluid situations mean things change from one minute to the next, which can make consensus-building hard.
Put the collective good ahead of business goals
A great leader never has tunnel vision. Whatever field or industry they operate in, they understand that they can’t make decisions in a vacuum. But this type of approach is even more important in a crisis, as many leaders have shown since the start of the pandemic.
Think on your feet
In a crisis, new information is being learned all the time. Great leaders understand that while they might have a plan, they will also need to adapt it to these new realities, sometimes even tearing the plan up and starting from scratch.
Never lose sight of the bigger picture
When you’re in the middle of a crisis, it is all too easy to move into survival mode. Working through the latest issue comes at the expense of longer-term problems, which can wait until tomorrow. But the best leaders understand that this is short-sighted.
Accelerate digital transformation
Well before the crisis, many businesses were pursuing digital transformation programmes. But what was a discretionary, self-paced transformation has become an urgent priority. Businesses and consumers have essentially been given an opportunity to try out and get accustomed to digital shopping, working, and collaboration all at once. This and the generally superior economics of digital channels will accelerate the penetration of digital business models.
These digital transformations need to be holistic, focussed on value creation, and not predominantly technology driven or constrained by existing processes and offerings. Above all, to compete dynamically on the rate of learning, organizations will need to be reconceived to combine human ingenuity with machine learning. Companies must focus on the human side of digital transformation at least as much as the technological side, including by incorporating new ways of working.
All of these ideas are potentialities, which will be realized only through our individual and collective actions. Never has the premium on leadership been higher. Business leaders need to create a collective narrative of hope and catalyse bold collective action if we are to look back at COVID-19 as an inflection point for collective progress, rather than as a squandered opportunity.