All world leaders stare these days directly into the eyes of an immense challenge, one nobody has faced before. It is difficult to lead a business, a team, an institution, and even more so when it comes to a country if you don’t know when, where and how the light in this darkness will be lit. We face a volatile reality.
By Ana-Maria Diceanu, founder & CEO Brain 4 Strategy and co-founder and president Global Women in PR Romania
Several times now I’ve heard the comparison of what we face today with the 2008 financial crisis. But I am more inclined to accept the comparison Chancellor Angela Merkel made, when saying that it looks more like the period after WWII. Why? In 2008 we were talking only about money or better said the lack of money, now we face a complex circumstance, with death, health system failures, army, forced quarantine, city lockdowns, learning new habits, panic consumption and so on. In 2008 the crisis affected the prosperity level of people but not life itself. In addition, the current situation does not affect only the financial system, but the entire commerce system from production to distribution.
These not only get more expensive or inaccessible to some of the population, but we witness entire production chains disappear or being significantly affected.
Should this experience be a humility lesson for leaders around the world? A reality that reminds them that they are not invincible, nor is their company, forcing them to look again at their core values?
There is a big difference between a leader during times of growing economy and a leader efficient in war times, an unpredictable economy and business reality. Some work well when it is sunny outside whilst others work well when storm clouds lurk at the horizon. Therefore, we might see changes in the management structure or even CEOs being switched.
As I say in all my crisis communication trainings, although it sounds like a cliché, a crisis is an opportunity.
But how will a leader shaped during pandemic times look like?
Difficult times will follow. Nobody knows the exact impact, nobody can estimate the losses, and it is difficult to have an exact picture of the economic impact. We see different analysis and calculations and estimates are being made.
Today’s leaders look at business continuity plans and in the same time they are involved in actions meant to save the world around them. All companies, from small to big, do their best to help communities around them, to come with solutions to help the health system.
Leaders will need to adapt to the fresh reality which sometimes changes from one day to another. We will see business die; others reinvent, and some will contract.
I have seen these days textile companies producing masks, cosmetic companies producing disinfectant, restaurants starting a delivery service, pubs starting online meetups and these stories will keep on coming in the days to come.
The next leaders will have to be comfortable when facing the unknown, or better said the unknown will not destabilise their capacity to take decisions.
I believe that the next leaders will have to be extremely observant and imaginative.
We do not need leaders complaining. It will be difficult for everybody. We need leaders courageous enough to sacrifice resources now for a quicker rebound of the market.
Employees will look up to their leaders, will expect a decision that will save their jobs, the business, and their security. When they communicate, they need to talk also about solutions not only about problems. Unfortunately, I have seen business owners who decided to communicate only de problem, decided to capitulate … But I have also seen courageous leaders, admitting openly that there are difficult times, uncertain times, but they will do their best to reinvent, to help, to build up again.
Next leaders will be forced to make decisions which might be not popular ones…and we have seen these days such decisions. Business owners will have to think about how to be surrounded by courageous managers. They will be forced to take risky decisions but saving the business on long run. To have the courage to rethink the business, to exit the comfort zone, to test and learn quickly form their failures.
I have seen these days business owners who had no intention to sell their products online, but now they exit their comfort zone, they learn as they go and they are offering now their services and products online.
Honest and visible (communicator)
These days one of my many homebound activities is following the news, as we all do, and a speech I heard stuck with me. It was the New Zeeland Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern: „Firstly you are not alone, you will hear us and see us daily! Secondly, success won’t be instant. Thirdly: you may not be at work, but this does not mean you don’t have a job”. It was one of the speeches I heard these weeks addressed to the population. I was even happier that this speech was delivered by a woman, which brings me to the following quality of the next leaders, empathy.
Humankind will face great challenges and empathy might be the lifeline for us all. As leaders better understand and apply the concept of empathy, their employees will draw strength from them and be motivated.
Rebuilding a business will need motivated people willing to sacrifice and put in all the necessary effort. Only motivated teams will succeed.
The ones that used to complain about the millennials and gen Z employees – that they are too demanding and spoiled – unable to empathise with them, will now find themselves at a loss without empathy.
We are in a place where people need empathy, but few offer it. We are all in an existential crisis from which we need to rebound quickly in order to survive the hit.
To not be scared to lose control (next leaders, no control freaks)
A leader in love with control will have no success in the coming months. Soldiers in combat follow orders and rules, but the ultimate decision is made there on the battlefield. The time to react will be shorter and in order to win you need quick decisions as to not lose the opportunities that might come your way.
Probably this will be difficult to achieve by Romanian managers and leaders because the system here is built around the idea of control.
We most probably will witness a change in organisational culture, and we will look at online organisations cultures. Digital is already the new reality with so many people working remote, we now change from decisions made in meetings rooms to decisions made on hangouts and many split-screens.
Once these changes will be part of our day to day ways of working, managers will face new challenges – from HR, to IT and crisis situations. We will see an increase in cyber crimes and HR people trying to reconnect with their colleagues, rethinking internal workflows.
Looking at the full half of the glass, the past weeks I have seen companies that almost never communicated before stepping up and starting a conversation with the outside, with consumers, employees and other stakeholders, no longer sticking their heads in the sand like they used to do, even during past crisis situations. And they will have to plan to communicate more in the future.
The leaders of tomorrow will have to work closer with communication and marketing people in order to transform these support functions in reputation weapons preventing crisis and increasing trust.
Stay connected and safe