01 Aug

LEADERSHIP: HOW TO RESPOND TO THE COVID-19 CRISIS

There have been many crises that leaders have faced in the past. But the level of uncertainty and unfamiliarity COVID-19 crisis has brought with it is unique in its own way. So the question is how do organizations navigate through these uncertainties?

Ever since the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown started to impact the world of work, we have been speaking to several global and Indian business leaders. I asked them three pertinent questions:

“How COVID-19 is different from other crises which you have experienced or handled in the past?”, “As a leader, what makes your task different in this crisis?”, and  “How do you intend/plan to handle the crisis”.

Some of the key themes that emerged from their responses include:

  • The end game/Exit is not visible
  • It is uncertain for how long the impact of the pandemic shall last
  • The crisis impacts multiple facets of life: Economic & psychological
  • Leadership blind spot: Uncertainty at its peak
  • Creating a lot of personal stress & anxiety

And as I listened to these answers, I could clearly experience and feel some degree of helplessness and the need to find some answers to move forward.

Traditionally, in several cases, organizations were able to manage the crisis well by plotting and mapping frequency and consequence of those crises. and based on that it would provide leaders a good degree of direction to take decisions. However, in case of COVID-19 there is complete uncertainty making each and every business and talent decision challenging

So the question is how do organizations prepare to navigate through these uncertainties and what are some of the steps which they can take to deal with current situation:

Here are some recommendations: 

  1. Brutal honesty about the actual condition on the ground with a rational basis of hope.
  2. False hope is detrimental in dealing with crisis of this order and magnitude coupled with destroyed credibility.
  3. Coming together almost once a day and sharing information on what is happening and how things are unfolding
  4. Create a core group of 10-15 cross functional and diverse people (if possible with external large system change managers, customers and suppliers as well). The group discusses issues with utmost honesty and transparency. While these discussions are happening, create a working group and SME of 200-300 multi-function, multi-level people across various parts of the business/region/country to listen to the conversation.will harmonise and also create increased level of preparedness and commitment. 
  5. Avoid using too much memo or directive communication
  6. Seek ideas from as many employees as possible and create a democratic/participative think tank.
  7. Create a project war council within the organisation by assembling the right people. This team will be a dynamic team and change the team as events continue to unfold. Consider this as a design challenge at the time of crisis.

Engage in iterative agile problem solving by:

  • Re-establishing goal priorities and values
  • Continuously evaluating the situation
  • Develop multiple options and prepare for multiple scenarios
  • Predict outcome for each options or scenarios
  • Choose the best course of action
  • Go ahead and execute

Organization also needs to make some fine-tuning in leadership style as well as culture at the time of crisis like this:

  • More and more facilitative deliberation conversation dialogue other than appointed or designated leaders
  • Add more diversity to any work and project
  • Provide psychological safety to disagree or dissent. Please don’t fire them rather they will be most valuable resource at this time
  • Kill the advocacy because it will accentuate the problem rather encourage inquiry

What kind of leadership style will be more functional during this time:

  • Creative, adaptive, decentralised and integrative.
  • Resilience is adaptability personified.
  • Don’t expect yourself and others to know the answer rather work towards and together to find the answer.

Consider everything as an experiment and:

  • Manage the process, effort and input not the output
  • Encourage rapid and dynamic learning
  • Remember every effort will not fetch desired result
  • As a leader, remember to take care of yourself as well. Anxiety and stress are weary-ing, so doing some meditation or yoga may help in creating equanimity.
  • Lastly, keep on trying till you find what you are trying to achieve. Perseverance is key.

As the time goes on, the uncertainty continues and the pandemic brings in newer challenges, remember that process is more important than outcome. This is the time to be agile in a true sense. Keep the battle on by continuously shifting as per the needs of the market, consumers and employees. With hope and faith in your workforce intact continue to solve the challenges as they come.

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