By Guest Contributor Atholl Duncan
Author Atholl Duncan explains what the new world of work looks like for for leaders in terms of maximising potential of you and others, based on his newest book Leaders In Lockdown.
In many years’ time, when PhD students and historians look back at the months that we’ve just lived through they may regard them as the turning point of the 21st century. Christian Lanng, the CEO of Silicon Valley tech unicorn Tradeshift, put it like this,
“Every single long-held belief has been thrown out of the window”.
COVID-19 has certainly exposed major flaws in how we lead and develop our people. It has raised questions of the past and conundrums for the future.
- What kind of leaders are more effective and successful?
- How should we care for our people – for their mental and physical wellbeing?
- How should we develop and nurture our people to meet the challenges of the post COVID world?
- How can we recreate the mindset which made the impossible possible in our response to the pandemic?
- How will we ensure we have the right leadership skills and approach to lead a dispersed workforce, oscillating between home and office?
- How can we match the pace of change we saw in COVID-19 in the future? And should we?
SUPERMAN HAS LEFT THE BUILDING
Leena Nair is the Chief Human Resources Officer of Unilever. She’s responsible for the care and development of 155,000 employees in 100 countries. Leena believes that in COVID-19 the empathetic leader was most effective. She sees this moment as a watershed for leadership. It has exposed the ‘Superman’ leader as a relic of the past. She sees a new template for leadership framed by the attributes which worked in the crisis.
“Being kind. Being compassionate. Being empathetic. Being inclusive. No longer is the leader the one who has all the answers. The first thing they do is listen and acknowledge the pain and the answers will follow. Empathize, walk in their shoes. Lead with no hierarchies. Be willing to be humble and curious. These are the leaders who are succeeding at this time. We have undervalued these things in the past because we liked leaders chasing for growth and talking up profit and adopting the Superman style of leadership.”
Professor Derek Deasy, from the famous Insead business school in France, is an expert on organisational behaviour. He would echo Leena’s thoughts. His message to corporate leaders at the peak of the crisis was,
“How do you want to be remembered at a time when the world is paying attention? How do you want to be seen living your values at a moment in history? How can you role-model empathy, compassion, transparency and collaboration?”
Vivienne Artz, the President of Women in Banking and Finance, believes it is no coincidence that many of our female leaders, especially those in politics, were perceived to be among the best performing in the heat of the pandemic.
“A woman’s mind works very differently,” she says, “They are thinking ‘what’s the impact?’ on so many different levels. Women think of not just the issue, but they think of what it means for society as a whole. The result is a greater empathy with the people.”
These global leaders raise an existential question for business, “What kind of leaders do we need to emerge from COVID-19?”
Alison Martin, the EMEA CEO of Zurich Insurance Group advocates that we must have leaders who can deliver a very different outcome as we re-set the business world and society.
“This is an opportunity for a huge wake-up call to be heard. This could be the reset year for all of us to say – what is that world we want to aspire for our children to live in? Can we try and build that one rather than the one we were destroying six months ago?”
MAKING THE LINK BETWEEN PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH
COVID-19 may also mark the moment when many senior executives were shaken from their denial about the link between physical health, mental health and their own performance.
Will Ahmed is the founder and CEO of the wearable health technology company WHOOP. He can draw a line between physical preparation and better business decisions and results.
“We have super-high-performing individuals who are making incredibly important decisions every day and they recognize, ‘If I have an earnings call tomorrow or in two days, how am I going to peak for that?’
“It is the same mindset that an Olympian has to how they are going to peak for a competition. The reality is that there is a lot about measuring your body, measuring behaviours and measuring lifestyle decisions that can either position you to succeed and be the best version of yourself on that day or position you to be run down.”
A COACHING CULTURE
COVID-19 may also be the watershed moment when more senior executives realise that having their own coach is an essential. The stress and anxiety for leaders have never been more acute and more prolonged in our generation. The ability to reflect, pause and consider with the help of an executive coach was a godsend for many leaders in the crisis and a habit they will continue to derive value from into the future.
Richard Bevan is the CEO of the League Managers’ Association which represents professional football coaches at all levels, including some of the most famous names in the game.
Straddling both the business world and the sporting world, he sees clearly the link between physical preparation and results. He believes post COVID-19, this area will become essential, not optional.
“We need to make sure that we are mentally and physically fit to do the job. We’ve learned in the pandemic not to be reactive about our health but to be proactive.”
He thinks COVID-19 has accelerated a gradual change in management style in the corporate world. ‘Command and control’ is dead. Richard says,
“The traditional command and control style of management is changing. We are moving from a demanding role to a convincing role. The really exciting companies are those that manage from the bottom up and that has been accelerated by this crisis.
“Coaching is the golden thread through football and business. Learning and adapting is the golden thread of how to come through the crisis in the best shape you can.”
IT’S TIME TO RE-IMAGINE
As we draw a welcome close to the year of 2020, thoughts turn to a business landscape which is unrecognisable from the time when we last sat down at Christmas. When the Festive period is done, it will be time to re-imagine how we get the best from those we work beside as we face a new set of challenges.
We need leaders and teams who can stare into the black hole of unemployment, the widening chasms of inequality and the burning problems of climate change and come up with the answers.
The year of 2021 will be a new start in many ways. It must see a new era of maximising potential.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ATHOLL DUNCAN is the Chair of the leadership development business, Black Isle Group. He worked as a journalist, TV producer and executive for the BBC for more than 20 years. He was Head of News and Current Affairs for BBC Scotland from 2007 to 2011. Atholl is an Insead certified executive coach, who has studied leadership at Harvard and Cranfield. He is currently Chair of the Scottish salmon industry, which is Britain’s largest food exporter; Audit Chair of a cinema business; Chair of UK Coaching, and is a Non-Executive Director and former Chair of the British Horseracing Authority. He works mainly in London and internationally and has a home in Scotland.
Leaders in Lockdown is a unique insight from the women and men who were on the front line of leading the business world’s fight against COVID-19. From New York to Singapore to Hong Kong to the City of London, it captures a remarkable moment in time – when the global economy was brought to a shuddering halt in the struggle to contain a deadly pandemic. These first-hand accounts of 100 days of lockdown tell stories of leadership in a crisis. They also share the wisdom of some of the world’s most thoughtful business leaders as they predict how the world will change because of COVID-19.
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