Leadership lessons from the pandemic

January 6, 2021 11:12 AM

From governments to businesses, life as we know it has changed forever, and leaders have had to find new approaches to guide their teams into the New Normal.

Increasingly, businesses are experimenting with moving their infrastructure online, to provide customers with technology-driven solutions.

The pandemic has been a major test for leaders around the world. From governments to businesses, life as we know it has changed forever, and leaders have had to find new approaches to guide their teams into the New Normal. What would have been unthinkable only a year ago–such as prolonged lockdowns and universal Work From Home policies, have now become an accepted part of life. In these new scenarios, leaders have had to evolve and adapt to seize opportunities and overcome challenges.

The Changing Role of the CEO

Over the past year, it has become evident that the role of a successful CEO has undergone major changes due to the pandemic. Now more than ever before, CEOs are expected to think faster and think bigger, and to be bold in their decision-making. They are expected to be innovative in goal-setting and re-evaluating operating models, to cut out inefficiencies and build models that work in a post-pandemic world.

For CEOs, mindset has become the key. Technical limitations aren’t as difficult to navigate, but convincing the team to have the right attitude and the willingness to make large-scale cultural and organisational changes. This may involve re-thinking old policies and bureaucracies that slow companies down.

CEOs have started questioning their old beliefs and long-held assumptions. This is essential to be able to deal with never-before-seen challenges and potential opportunities created by the pandemic. CEOs need to be cheerleaders for their organisations. This may even involve taking on a “ministerial” role. In the New Normal, it has become more acceptable for CEOs to show their human and vulnerable side to their employees, so that they can make them feel heard and understood.

Lessons Learnt from the Pandemic and How They Apply to Current Business Models

All successful businesses have been able to cope with the pandemic due to synergy between three core lenses, namely, the strategic lens, the political lens, and the cultural lens. This may include having the right colleagues and partners involved, who are knowledgeable, have a thorough understanding of organisational goals, and can make clear decisions. Internal dynamics and politics would have to be managed with sensitivity, and leaders have had to ensure that the transition has been a culturally sound one for the organisation and reflects the company’s values. Going forward, this holistic approach is likely to become a standard part of operations.

The pandemic has also revealed to business leaders the value of taking a people-first approach and following policies that are sensitive to the needs of teams and customers alike. Organisations also need to be evermore vigilant about risks and ask themselves tough questions about the issues that may hinder normal functioning.

Digital Technology Has Become Essential for Communication

Technology has proved itself an invaluable asset during the pandemic. Around the world, across industries and sectors, governments, businesses, and consumers have relied on technology to communicate during stay-at-home orders. There has been an unprecedented shift towards digital adoption, with even those who were averse to it rapidly adapting to life online. Video calling has become a ubiquitous aspect of work in the Covid-world. Cloud services are expected to grow, and activities like shopping, entertainment banking, and even healthcare consultations, have all started to become increasingly digital.

This is an opportunity for organisations to connect with customers and employees through various communication channels and establish a more personal relationship with them. Leaders can especially use these tools to reach out to their teams, boost morale, and encourage more productivity.

Tech Driven Solutions Are Becoming The Norm

Increasingly, businesses are experimenting with moving their infrastructure online, to provide customers with technology-driven solutions. Even healthcare has become increasingly digital, especially over the last few months, with video consultations and apps that have helped to track the spread of the disease. Businesses need to look out for opportunities to innovate, and continually assess their processes to make them smoother, faster, and more digital-forward in the New Normal.

Being Prepared

One thing is certain: the world is entering a stage of rapid flux, where changes happen at breathtaking speed. Black Swan events such as these–while uncommon–nonetheless impart the valuable lesson of needing to be prepared for anything. This can only happen through clear communication, robust organisational infrastructure, and taking a big-picture approach to future goals.

We are today navigating the pandemic challenges by pivoting into new ways of doing business. The things that started at BCP – business continuity planning could soon become business as usual BCP. The two key learnings from this experience– the importance of Resilience and Agility:

Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from difficulties, it’s the ability to spring back. This is a skill we need to instill both in our employees and business.

The second one is ‘agility’. We have always been talking about ‘speed to market’. While speed is defined as the ability to move in one direction to reach a goal – today the conversation is about agility – the ability to quickly change directions with purpose to reach the goal.

(By Prasun Sikdar, MD & CEO, ManipalCigna Health Insurance Company Limited)

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