Article (November-2020)


It is testing time for leaders amid unforeseen roadblocks

Dr. Shalini Sarin

Designation : -   Executive Director Elektromobilitat

Organization : -   Executive Coach & Strategic Advisor, New Delhi


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What kind of specific traits and mindsets are required to lead businesses during the crisis?

SS    Some of the traits and mindsets required today:

1) CEOs are expected to show deliberate calm and bounded optimism. Everyone wants them to demonstrate empathyand, at the same time, be highly engaged and fact based in their actions. They are expected to make a positive difference in people's lives with their leadership and wield both telescope and microscope adroitlyi.e. have both a coherent long-term view and a set of effective short-term fixes at hand.

2) In times of crisis, no job is more important than taking care of teams first  and then customers. There is need to strengthen relationships and build trust, keeping focus off yourself.

3) In a crisis, leaders must developintegrative awareness to process large amounts of complex information, contradictory views, and strong emotions. This requires awareness of what happens in the outside world (facts on the ground) and in the inside world (body and mind).

4) Self-care goes beyond making sure to have a good regimen of sleep, eating, and exercise. It is also about letting up on the self-criticism or perfectionism, to be able to connect with core intentions and purpose. Practicing this  on the self also enhances capacity to be empathetic with others.

5) Leaders take personal ownership in a crisis, stay alert to and aligned on a daily dashboard of priorities. To reliably deliver, leaders must maintain their equanimity even when others are losing their heads.

6) During a crisisinformation is incomplete, interests and priorities may clash, and emotions and anxieties run high. Analysis-paralysis can easily result, hence ability to decide with speedover precision is important. Strong leadersseek input and information from diverse sources, are not afraid to admit what they don't know, and bring in outside expertise when needed. Have the courage to throw out yesterday's playbook.

7) Figuring how to restart in uncertain environment was challenging enough, however, coping with sudden shutdownof the global economy and uncertainty looming large, ability to bounce back will be a key differentiator and an opportunity in adversity mindset is imperative with resilience on one hand and exploration on the other.

What resources and leadership differentiating actions fuel the change process in such abnormal environments?

SS Compassion goes a long way during turbulent times. Find ways to lend material aid to frontline employees who cannot work remotely.Strengthen direct connections to the front line. In triage situations, it's crucial to have an accurate, current picture of what is happening on the ground. Create a network of local leaders and influencers who can speak with deep knowledge about the impact of the crisis and the sentiments of customers, suppliers, employees, and other stakeholders e.g. by proposing payment schedules to ease liquidity crunch or offering pro bono or in-kind provision of services. Connect with individual team members. Relate on a personal level first, and then focus on work. Ask if help is needed.Collect and amplify positive messages -successes, acts of kindness, obstacles that have been overcome.

Protect the core and pivot new opportunities: Protecting the core is about becoming more effective and efficient in the company's core business. The focus is on improvement, not exponential growth. Improvement is always possible. Cost cutting is inevitable in dire times, but the current crisis is an opportunity for an intense questioning of processes-including in areas where your company already excels. Decide what not to do. Put a hold on large initiatives and expenses, and ruthlessly prioritize. Publicize your "what not to do" choices.

CEOs need to be pretty much on for 24/7 therefore exhaustion can quickly set in. Downtime is a precious rarity. Establish a routine of self-care: a healthy diet, exercise, meditation, or whatever works best for you. Stock up on energy, emotional reserves, and coping mechanisms.

Post pandemic, how is the organization learning culture expected to evolve and how will it accelerate our way out of crisis?

SS A shared belief that the enterprise can largely create its own future, rather than be buffeted into a predetermined corner by the winds of environmental change, will be the hallmark of a learning organization.

Make company values foundational. Fear and panic gives rise to knee-jerk reactions during crises. Even progressive organizations backslide to traditional thinking.

During challenging times, building a high-trust culture starts with cultivating positive beliefs about employees because assumptions drive behaviour. Adoption of work from home culture has a strong belief about trusting the employee, who cares about the company's success, and will not compromise integrity, despite not being watched over.

This crisis has forced every company into a massive experiment in how to be more nimble, flexible, and fast. Individual contributors are assigned on special projects and are cutting down cost of expensive consultants, cross functional teams and collective knowledge is being leveraged for addressing several organization issues and new business opportunities are being sought to capture current demand and address issues. When managed well, cross-functional teams can add a great deal of value.

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