Leadership lessons as we battle an unprecedented global pandemic

I read an interesting interview of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin in TIME whose 2018 book Leadership: In Turbulent Times chronicles the lives of four US presidents. The book tries to decipher the qualities of great leaders – the effect of adversity on their growth and how in challenging situations leaders collaborate with subordinates to improve the lives of others. Her work is a valuable reminder to change the way we lead in this globally interconnected and volatile world. The same holds true as the world battles a never seen before global pandemic called Coronavirus. Globally with one in five people currently under lockdown, it clearly showcases that the main emphasis of world leaders is on containing the spread of the disease itself. 

As India goes into a 21-day national lockdown, it is no longer status quo for us as we reinvent our strategies to continue serving the needs of our over 150,000 merchant partners. 

People above Bottomline, Always

The tell-tale signs of a national lockdown were all there as on 22nd March the government announced the shutdown of all passenger train services on Indian Railways till the end of the month. Amid the current national lockdown, except those responsible for maintaining essential services, all the working citizens are either working from home or staying indoors. This highlights an important point that during a pandemic of such menacing magnitude or for that matter any crisis, the focus should always be on the most important asset that any business has – its people. Taking employee-first decisions will go a long way in ensuring your business thrives and you are able to meet and exceed the needs of your customers. 

Having a network of teams

During uncertain times like the ones we’re facing today, leaders are often grappling with problems that are unfamiliar. Hence instead of continuing with a hierarchal communication process, the need of the hour is to have an agile network of teams – groups with defined priorities and set responsibilities. While one group identifies the potential crisis and prepare solutions for routine business activities, the other will pursue actions that take place outside regular business operations and adjust the overall scheme of things. Such a strategy thereby promotes rapid problem-solving, gives leaders a chance to take quick decisions & fixes ownership in the process. 

Exhibiting a calm, confident and quick response

In a routine emergency, experience is the most valuable quality of a leader. However, in an unprecedented situation, one’s own character often takes over. A calm person has the ability to detach from the noise around and think clearly about how one will navigate the situation at hand. Such a person will not only apply discretion amidst the uncertain environment but also project confidence that the organisation will find a way through this tough situation. 

Mastering the 3 As – Assess, Anticipate and Act

Every business needs to get their 3 As right. Assess, Anticipate and Act – that should be the mantra to deal with problems of such high magnitude. This should be a continuous exercise for leaders to remain calm and avoid overreacting to new information as and when it comes. 

Effective and constant communication  

Thoughtful and crystal-clear communication, especially in the age of WhatsApp University, is the need of the hour during such a crisis. An effective leader will see to it that none of the questions, concerns and interests of each stakeholder is left unanswered. Moreover, they will have a system in place to communicate even after the crisis thereby inspiring them to support the company’s recovery.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to test world leaders and the corporate sector across sectors in the world, the prolonged uncertainty is all the more reason for these leaders to earn the confidence of all their stakeholders and take decisions keeping their interest on top. The leaders and laggards of tomorrow will be determined by who will help establish or reinforce behaviours and values that can support their organisation during a crisis of such epic proportions.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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