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Leadership Lessons from COVID-19



Sameer Nagarajan - Sr. HR Professional, Dubai, UAE


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The pandemic is by no means over, and some would argue that we are still in the initial stages as a planet. Nevertheless, there are important leadership lessons emerging across the board.

The pandemic is by no means over, and some would argue that we are still in the initial stages as a planet. Nevertheless, there are important leadership lessons emerging across the board.


1. This is not merely VUCA. This is VUCA++ if there ever was. None of us, even those in senior leadership positions, have ever been through something like this in our lifetimes. From a leadership perspective, this calls for high humility, willingness to learn, take appropriate decisions for the benefit of our workforces and organisations, and continually look to identify best practice wherever they might be.


2. Leaders: how alert are you? Almost every country on the planet is updating and announcing new policies every 24 hours. Regardless of where you are, this means you have to check news, social media and the internet every 6 hours or so to see what has changed: given time zones, this is almost essential if you are to stay ahead of the curve. Company strategies need to be updated accordingly. This calls for a high degree of tactical preparedness and execution excellence.


3. Nuances in approach. Not every country is following WHO guidelines to the last letter. Fortunately the “herd immunity” strategy has been abandoned with the UK being the last to try it: it would have had severe consequences in terms of mortality in the process of achieving that objective. But there are nuances in approach: some countries emphasise testing, others have hit lockdown stage, some have barred entry but not exit, some are practicing for lockdown. Each country approach will have slightly different consequences for organisational responses.


4. Trust, trust, trust. Regardless of whether you lead a company, NGO, government organisation, or country: this is the time to learn from the experience of others who are ahead on the infection curve. Distill best practice. Try out new ideas that seem to work. No wild experimenting.


5. Work will never be the same again. The pandemic itself may subside or cease in 3-6 months if we are lucky. However some behaviours will be modified for good. One only needs to look at SARS, for example, to see how the use of masks, social distance and hand wash has become hugely commonplace in some Asian countries (and this well before December 2019). Working from home, once considered a novelty and unusual - and sometimes viewed with suspicion by some companies as an excuse to goof off - will become more commonplace. Connectivity tools such as Skype, Zoom and Slack (among others) will see an upsurge in use. Consequently, demands on bandwidth will increase, meaning tech and telecom companies will have to figure out rapid size and scale demands. As a corollary, there are business opportunities for companies that are watchful.


6. Redefine leadership itself. At times like this, everyone is a leader in their own space; every follower is also a leader and every leader, a follower. The classic “expert” authority model of leadership is dead, and long live the leader now.


7. Renew. Manage yourself. Yes, times are stressful and difficult. Don’t succumb. Meditate, exercise, read- do whatever works for you. Switch off devices for a while every day. Listen to the birds, watch the trees grow, play with a dog. Whatever it takes.


8. There are people in worse situations. Be sensitive. A large number of people make enough money in a day to eat for the day and they are in real crises. Reach out and help whichever way you can. Food and money help, but not only those. A group of Harvard students is now reaching out to school students at home, who have limited access to resources, and are offering online and virtual tutorials for almost any subject. That’s just one example.


Beating COVID19 is clearly still work in progress - and so are the lessons to be learnt along the way.