By Guest Contributor Atholl Duncan
Author Atholl Duncan explains what the new world of work looks like for for leaders, based on his newest book Leaders In Lockdown.
“We are judged as leaders not on what we are like when the going is good. We are judged as leaders on what we are like when the going is tough.” Sir David Behan, Executive Chairman, HC-One Care Homes.
For business leaders coping with COVID over the last eight months this has been a time like no other.
In the book “Leaders in Lockdown” I captured the views of 28 global business leaders as they lived through the crisis. Their insights into how to lead in such a time and what will change because of what we have all been through are a framework for re-setting businesses and re-setting society.
THE POWER OF PURPOSE
One powerful theme that emerged was that businesses with a clearly defined purpose beyond profit had coped better and emerged stronger. The “Leaders in Lockdown” predicted a new age of purpose or, as some might see it, the true acceptance of stakeholder capitalism.
Leena Nair, the Chief HR Officer of Unilever, felt that during COVID-19,
“Purpose has truly been elevated because when you are anxious, when you are worried, when you are not sure, the only thing that keeps people going is this higher purpose of doing meaningful work in the world. This time has elevated purpose like no other,”
Marian Salzman is Senior Vice President at Philip Morris International. Her job is to transition the world’s largest tobacco company to create a smoke-free future – a future free of cigarettes. Her belief is the COVID-19 confirmed that,
“Corporate purpose is no longer a line or two to emblazon on a website and forget about; it now sits at the heart of the business, serving as a guide for big decisions,”
Sally Osman, the former communications advisor to The Queen agrees,
“There has been so much talk of purpose in recent years. This is a reckoning, a moment of truth when organisations will be judged on giving purpose real meaning through action not words.”
In the greatest health and economic crisis to hit our generation, so many businesses of all shapes and sizes did step up to the plate. The stories of how Unilever and Tata responded are captured in “Leaders in Lockdown”. The tech giants of Silicon Valley worked together on track and trace; big pharma partnered to find a vaccine; and small businesses everywhere cared with kindness for the communities where they live.
THE BUT WILL WE REALLY CHANGE WHEN COVID-19 RECEDES?
The answer was that not only was this the time to change but if businesses did not, they would face the alienation of employees, customers and investors.
Gary Liu, the CEO of the South China Morning Post put it this way,
“There has been a generation of talk about voting with your wallet. Unfortunately, we have disappointed ourselves as a society over and over again. At this moment in time there’s a recognition that truth and collective sacrifice matter deeply. Hopefully, that will change consumer behaviour.”
Ho Kwon-Ping is the co-founder and Executive Chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings – the global hotel, resorts and spa business. His business was shaken to the core by COVID-19. As he prepared to build back it prompted him to conclude on the crisis,
“It reminds you that purpose is at the very heart of living. And that is a great discovery.”
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.
Comments are closed