“One big lesson we’ve always learnt from a crisis is that leadership matters,” Shiv Shivakumar, the Group Executive President of Aditya Birla Group said.
As the pandemic took a toll on businesses, some leaders stood out more than others. They were not only clear, decisive and visionary, they also showed radical candor, and worked off scientific facts, without falling prey to populism or pseudo-science. World over, a number of leaders took this crisis as a real opportunity to change for the better.
Here’s a round-up of key lessons we learned from the COVID19 caused disruption:
1. Strategic ability to strategic agility
For a long time, leaders stood out for their strategic ability. What COVID19 taught us is that more than ever, we need to be agile. Strategic ability is about direction, and being precise. Strategic agility on the other hand is about being less precise but more adaptable and be willing to move even when unsure. Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York was one of the first leaders to begin a daily briefing. Having recognized New York as a global travel hub, he not only answered questions, and gave credit to his people , and he put out facts as they were.
2. Analog to everything digital
The whole world has gone digital. In fact, consumers have moved towards digital much before CEOs, leadership teams and companies. According to data shared by Shivakumar about FMCG and Durable markets, 38 percent of consumers research online and buy online. 33 percent of consumers research offline and buy online. And 33 percent of consumers research offline and buy offline. That’s a total of 60 percent of all purchases influenced by digital. “Almost everything that can go online, has gone online.” Shiv said.
3. Follow the science, not populism
One of the leaders atop the COVID19 crisis in the US is Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is part of the US administrative effort to tackle the virus – who continually pushed for the need to follow the science, even in face of adverse politics. The lesson for leaders is not to follow populism but follow principles.
4. From ‘supply chain as back office’ to supply chain as a life-saving process
Of the companies that stepped up operations post the pandemic is Amul. The company ramped up production of all necessities needed for households. R S Sodhi, the Managing Director said that the company buys the most expensive products while continuing to produce products that are sold at cheap rates. Thereby, assuring farmers of continued support while also ensuring their products stay accessible to many. From communication, innovation to ramping up its complex supply chains, the company took on a critical role during the crisis.
5. Work from office to work from anywhere
Harsh Goenka the Chairman of RPG Group noted that their sales teams will no longer need an office. And another leader, CK Ranganathan the Founder of CavinKare also pivoted to a ‘no-office’ model. Most companies will focus on finding a middle ground but they will pivot. We will see a hybrid form of work from home+ work from office + work from anywhere.
6. From popular slogans to candor
Most leaders are good at finding a rallying slogan. But a crisis is not the best time for sloganeering. What’s required is ‘Candor’ – which is honesty without ambiguity, cynicism and anxiety. A leader who embodied this really well was the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. People want hope, inspiration, and resilience. The lesson for leaders is to clearly communicate how a company is thinking about tough business decisions.
7. Engaging with society
A crisis is a time to reflect back on the importance of the ‘collective’ over the ‘individual’. There’s a shared responsibility in tackling the pandemic. Sana Marin, the Prime Minister of Finland exemplified the ‘collectivism’ that’s the need of the hour. Every arm of the government consistently showcased the resolve to fight the pandemic with the message that it's not just about ‘individual’ wellbeing but ‘societal’ well being. The police in Finland were engaged with citizens to brief them and guide them on the pandemic.
8. Role of government
Most executives aren’t as interested in dealing with the government. Germany is one of the few countries in the world that has a positive trade balance despite all the noise about trade wars and rising nationalism, a large part of it is due to the leadership of Angela Merkel, who forged the path for businesses and the government to work together in the face of mounting anti-globalism sentiment.
9. Staying the long haul, despite hiccups
Life is about learning from failures and having the ability to learn from them and not give up. Cyril Ramaphosa, the President of South Africa sought the support of a number of countries including China, Russia and a team of leading medical experts. While the country’s economy is faltering, they’ve managed to contain the pandemic. Leaders should focus on the long haul, while doing the right thing – although there may be hiccups along the way.
10. Unity with collaborative diversity
Tsai Ing-Wen, President of Taiwan handled the pandemic remarkably well, Shiv said. From putting the technology in place to early recognition, the leader is credited with handling the situation in a timely manner collaborating with a range of stakeholders to get the virus under control.
A key characteristic of many leaders who stood out of the pack – was their willingness to learn from their mistakes, and failures, they didn’t hide behind facts, and they had the courage to lead in the face of mounting challenges to their authority. That’s where leadership shines brightest.