A CEO roundtable on leadership beyond COVID19

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Posted by Simon Preston

A RISE session in leading beyond the coronavirus crisis

I recently facilitated a session alongside my RISE colleagues, Chris and Matthew, for a group of CEOs focussed on ‘Leading Beyond the Crisis’ as part of our work in supporting leaders with leading in uncertainty. The session was designed to provide space for meaningful reflection after the intensity of the last few months and give an opportunity for shared discussion on the implications for leadership going forwards.

Some interesting thoughts and insights emerged from our discussion which I'd like to share below.

How has the pandemic challenged CEOs' individual leadership?

  • Many of the CEOs found themselves needing to be more direct and courageous in making decisions given the immediacy and short time frames at the beginning of the pandemic. 
  • There was a shared sense across the group of an increase in cohesion and willingness to adapt amongst their employees. Yet, as the weeks went by, some of this new-found solidarity was beginning to dwindle. 
  • Communication - and its importance - deepened. Many leaders felt they had gotten to know their people better during this time and that they were inspired to continue communicating in ways that deepened this connection. 

What might a post-COVID workplace look like?

The coronavirus crisis has forced us to think about the purpose of offices, to revisit culture and engagement, to meaningfully consider the importance of employee well-being, and contend with fast-growing demand for virtual working practices. Each of these raises valid questions for leaders as they seek to support their organisations moving into a post-COVID world. 

Questions like:

  • How do you re-purpose offices as hubs for connection and collaboration? 
  • How do we capitalise on creative adaptations to our services or products and reach new markets?
  • How do you create meaningful spaces for employees to remain connected with each other in order to build on the trust and cohesion that has been heightened during this period?
  • Given the shift to virtual working, how do we access talent that no longer needs to be country or region-specific?
  • How do you maintain the experimental attitude developed during this period, and continue to develop more agile mechanisms for measuring success and increasing transparency of activity?

It was clear in our discussion that there were no straightforward answers for any of these questions and one thing we highlighted was that when leading in uncertainty there is no right answer and no clear way forwards. 

Growth in crisis

Even before COVID-19, the future was deeply uncertain. Organisations found comfort in the more knowable short-term, using past experience as a familiar reference point. Part of our work at RISE is to support leaders and their teams to confront the reality of uncertainty, and instead of fearing it, learning to be more comfortable with it and empowered to make dynamic decisions.

Now more than ever, leading beyond the crisis requires a dialling up of our senses in order to pay attention to the ever-changing needs and responses of a situation. Flexibility, reflexivity and adaptability are strengths to be nurtured. 

Flexibility, reflexivity and adaptability are strengths to be nurtured.

A fact that leaders must accept is that there isn’t a ‘going back to normal’. But was there ever a normal before? The session exposed that the last few months have been a brutal lesson in leading through extreme uncertainty. We have to confront the notion that our normal rhythms of thinking and planning in our businesses do not include random, surprise events. Perhaps they cannot.

Yet, given the big global challenges we are faced with and the increasing pressure we are putting on the social, political, and economic domains, we should reasonably expect more disruption and chaos in the coming years and decades. 

Let’s hope that the last few months have planted the seeds for new approaches to leadership that we will be able to harvest in the coming years. Out of present uncertainty, future opportunities can grow.

It’s up to us leaders to see that they bloom.

Topics: Field Reflections, Uncertainty, Consulting


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