Adapting to the new world requires a different kind of leadership

Metaco's Barbara Walsch says nothing will ever be the same after Covid-19.

“For some organisations, near-term survival is the only agenda item. Others are peering through the fog of uncertainty, thinking about how to position themselves once the crisis has passed and things return to normal. The question is, ‘What will normal look like?’ While no one can say how long the crisis will last, what we find on the other side will not look like the normal of recent years.”

These are the words of Ian Davis, a former partner at McKinsey who, ironically, uttered these words were written back in 2008 – the last time the entire world found itself immersed in turmoil and crisis.

The truth is, although we have been in flux for some time, the global coronavirus (Covid-19) situation has catapulted us into an existence that is so vastly different from anything we have experienced before. No time to resist or ask questions, it just happened, and to navigate the way forward we have to adopt new ways of being and responding. This is not a matter of waiting until the lockdown is over and for normality to return. Whether it is in the way we live and work, the work we do, the people we work with, the services we use - or just about everything else - life is forever changed.

We have all been amazed at the unprecedented speed at which great change can occur, and this understandably creates anxiety and fear. Yet, considering past experience, I am sure each one of us can remember how unexpectedly good outcomes have arisen out of the most daunting situations.  Life itself is our greatest teacher. It’s now calling us to step up to lead differently in the contexts with which we find ourselves; be it our families, our professional lives, our teams and our organisations.

Answers unknown

We are all in a wait-and-see period, but I do sense and feel that in this time we are being given the opportunity to qualify the importance of what we do and how we do it. For this reason, it's been helpful to start by reflecting on my journey through life so far, and asking myself what I long for and what I miss. If this was a starting point for my life going forward, what would I want to include? What would I want to leave out? What is important and what is negligible. What do I want to prioritise? 

This does not seek to diminish the value of the past, which is a platform for the present. Instead, it serves as a seed for creating the future. Even if the answers are currently unknown, it does not mean they don’t exist, and you may find ideas surfacing whilst you’re watering the plants or helping children with their schoolwork. Perhaps a more apt name for ‘wait-and-see’ could be ‘allow-to-emerge’.

Purpose-driven

‘Why am I here?’ and ‘what is my Purpose?’ are grand questions. They may seem overwhelmingly abstract, but they needn’t be. In fact, ‘purpose’ is simply a description of what we would want the outcomes to be from how we live our lives. The key to purpose is to remember that it isn’t necessarily related to anyone specific part of one’s life - it can be but it needn’t be. To remember one’s purpose is to be able to find meaning in everyday living and in the smallest of activities. The blessing of purpose is that it doesn’t change just because circumstances change. For example, if you find your work situation has changed it may just be easier to navigate a new work situation by discovering how it aligns with your purpose. 

Leadership independent of title 

The world is too complex today for the heroic leadership models of the past. Core to the model of systemic leadership is that leadership is a collective activity, in which the whole becomes substantially more than the sum of the parts.

This allows for situational excellence to rise to the surface as people work together to achieve remarkable results. 

Over this time we have seen stories coming from all corners of the globe of the most unlikely collaborations for the greater good. One that stands out for me is the 14 companies in the UK, including Airbus, BAE Systems, Ford, McLaren, GKN, Siemens, and Rolls Royce, that have formed a consortium to produce mechanical ventilators to address the rising shortages. Nothing related to their business models, and a year ago this would have been right off the strategic radar screens for all of these companies. What it took was different thinking - flexibility, adaptability, a higher calling and a good dose of compassion. I doubt any of these companies would have considered these as business descriptors beforehand!  

Closer to home social media groups have been created to offer shopping assistance to those who cannot go out, online exercise routines, even just a conversation to someone feeling isolated. The worst circumstances, bringing out the best in us. What a different place the world would be if we human beings could continue to connect like this, even when there is no crisis.   

Irrespective of where we may find ourselves, the ability to lead differently is available to all of us. All we need to ask is “how can I respond in a way that delivers value that will really make a difference?” And, “for that, how do I need to think differently?” The interesting thing is that, as we start to shift our thinking, our own situation shifts for the better with it, and so does the world around us. 

None of us can see very far into the future at this point. But our ability to control our responses is certainly a power within all of us that will always be there. Individually and collectively, our ability to be different, to adapt with more resourceful ways of thinking and behaving, is at the core of resilience. This will see us emerge resourcefully through any adversity.