How Leaders Can Manoeuvre the COVID Challenge
Ivan Berni Jr., FGV-EAESP, takes perspective on the Covid-19 crisis for companies, leaders and employees and contends that leaders must show proof of balance and mindfulness.
Brazil and Beyond: Save the company or save the employees? How Leaders Can Manoeuvre the COVID Challenge, by Ivan Berni Jr.
Responsible Leadership: How to learn and apply it
How to deal with something new – the Covid-19 pandemic – that is out of our control? What are leaders’ new challenges and behaviours to be developed to face this new disruptive moment? The aims of this article are to explore the dilemmas that companies, leaders and employees are facing since Covid-19 was discovered.
COVID-19: Our generation has never had this experience before
At the end of 2019, we heard that a dangerous virus with big potential of transmission was discovered in Wuhan, China. And at that time, we did not know the real impact that the world’s population could face in the short term.
After some weeks, we recognized the transmission potential of Covid-19 at Codgno, a small city in Lombardi Province, north of ltaly. We since listened to and read much bad news in the media regarding other countries in Europe, Asia, the Americas, Africa, and Oceania – facing the same issue, in parallel. And at the same time we started to think about the real impact for the global population, companies, leaders and employees.
Companies and employees: Their situation
Companies do not all face the same issues due to Covld-19. Moreover, it depends which market niche they are doing business in. Some of them such as the aerospace, automotive, oil and gas sectors are suffering huge drops in sales and demand in production. Others market sectors such as health, medicine, and information technology have seen a large increase in demand. The main goal of this article is to focus on companies that are facing a huge negative demand impact on their supply chains.
ln general, many companies are suffering greatly, some of them shut down for long periods in 2020. Suddenly it became necessary to revise budgets, business and strategic plans with cost reduction a main focus. Overall, supply chains faced huge negative impact and complications, but, in parallel, new challenges, new opportunities, new demands and needs were created and it was quickly necessary to be adapted and ready for it. Companies undertook different studies, analyses, forecasts, and marketing research, with, in many cases, negative results.
For many companies, the crisis meant an increase in costs and a drastic reduction in or negative profit. As such, leaders started to face a huge dilemma: retain employees for future business or lay them off. If they decided to cut staff, this tough decision would have many negative consequences on the social dimension with an increase in unemployment and, in the short term, difficulties in maintaining output with productivity and high quality due to losing trained and skilled employees.
In this new, fragile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous scenario, each employee, as a human being, faces a variety of feelings such as unsafety, anxiety, and stress, and in some cases depression and burn-out. Around 7,8 Billion people globally are out of their comfort zone and we cannot see good news and a direction in a short term period.
Responsible leadership, challenges, opportunities and dilemmas
As leaders face these unforgettable challenges, they are learning in practice how to deal with the uncontrollable environment beyond dally activity via innovation, investment in new technologies – Artificial intelligence, Big Data, Block Chain, lndustry 4.0, Robots, for example. They are also learning how to keep employees motivated, committed, engaged, manage their emotional instability, manage their company culture, subculture, conflicts, financial numbers, KPIs, and strategy. Due to low results, leaders are receiving a lot of pressure from their companies. On this dimension, the issue is how leaders can develop a responsible leadership approach and find a good balance between company and employee needs without losing emotional control and survive during these chaotic times?
To keep moving forward and attempt to solve or find good solutions and balance between company and employee needs, responsible leadership needs to develop important skills such as creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, cognitive flexibility, complex problem solving, negotiation, decision making, listening, empathy, conflict management, resilience, emotional intelligence, flexibility and patience. But, to succeed, is necessary to have self-knowledge, be humble, forget one’s ego, vanity and arrogance – and instead practice and enhance constructive dialogue instead of heated and entrenched debate. Considering dally activity, a good idea or suggestion would be to practice different leadership styles according to the situational demands and influence all teams to move forward and demonstrate resilience to achieve their goals and targets.
Leaders with a responsible leadership approach need to understand organisational ambidexterity, work with humanized management, and take decisions on evidence based management. Being ambassadors of corporate culture, responsible leaders practice less command, control and centralization and privilege team creativity, curiosity and innovation. And with these actions, employees can support leaders with new suggestions, new ideas, new solutions for issues and finally achieve their goals and overcome challenges.
Moreover, in their daily activities, employees can practice their talent without fear with greater motivation, purpose and engagement. But, in such situations, it is very important to emphasize that leaders take decisions or define new strategies and actions together with employees. Leaders have the responsibility to move forward and support all their teams to achieve goals but leaders must not forget to walk the talk as in many cases they are examples for their Team. Beyond that, leaders need to understand that is very important not only to have followers but develop new leaders in their teams too.
Balanced and mindful
Unfortunately, this unique, worldwide situation will not be solved in the short term and perhaps it will take some many more months or even years to succeed and return back to the Pre-Covid-19 period with vaccine as the solution. A leader with a responsible leadership approach is a professional that will find the best balance between the company’s and employees’ needs, the best balance between reason and emotion. It is a huge challenge but leaders cannot give-up on losing this opportunity to develop their skills and use this knowledge to take the best proper action and decision and in the near future exchange the experiences that have been learned with others.
Finally, during this tough and unique period of Covid-19, when leaders are able to bring together both purpose of business and the purpose of employees, provide motivation and take care of their employees’ wellbeing, the end-result post-Covid will be beneficial. Employees will achieve higher focus, determination and commitment while recognising the effort of their leaders and companies. It will a win-win relationship for both sides. Things will look darker if companies decide to shed their employees. Leaders and staff that keep working have a social responsibility to create new demand and offer new jobs and opportunities for the unemployed – action and attitude such as this are the most effective ways to guarantee people’s dignity. And as human beings we must undertake actions to strive for a more equal and inclusive world.
During this long period, both leaders and employees may be inclined to feel negatively, misunderstand, express emotional instability or insecurity or even question and doubt. In such cases, it is corporate mission, vision and values that may provide the guidelines and help support everybody to find a balance and take proper action and decision. To conclude, we cannot forget that leaders are human beings too, not supermen or robots. To absorb all the pressure and take the best decisions, it is sometimes necessary to practice mindfulness.
- Link up with Ivan Berni Jr. on LinkedIn
- Discover FGV-EAESP and its degree portfolio
- Read a related article: Leading in a Troubled World: Lessons from Covid-19
- Download this article and others in the special 10th Anniversary issue of Global Voice magazine.
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The Council on Business & Society (The CoBS), visionary in its conception and purpose, was created in 2011, and is dedicated to promoting responsible leadership and tackling issues at the crossroads of business and society including sustainability, diversity, ethical leadership and the place responsible business has to play in contributing to the common good.
In 2020, member schools now number 7, all “Triple Crown” accredited AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA and leaders in their respective countries.