Positive leadership vital to overcome crisis | Sunday Observer

Positive leadership vital to overcome crisis

There is no easy route through the crisis. Besides the obvious problem of selecting the correct path to take when the problem is complex, leaders also face the monumental task of reassuring the employees and persuading them to follow through on strategic decisions – even when measures such as social distancing – with its knock-on effect on employment – come at great personal cost.

A correct start is vital and a wrong move could erode trust and unleash unrest that exacerbates the existing dangers. But it remains to be seen whether our business leaders will rise to the occasion with the appropriate response. What we have so far seen is mixed opinions and ever changing opinions of Sri-Lankan top notch business leaders. 

It’s true that for business leaders, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated unprecedented change and by no means is it an easy issue problem to fix. More than ever, the health of businesses is urgently and visibly linked with the health of workforces, the health of our society, and the health of the consumers and our planet.

Previously unimaginable shifts in our daily lives are compelling companies to adapt quickly and identify creative, unconventional ways to operate and survive. Uncertainty makes it more difficult for leaders to find their footing — and those who like to operate from a place of clarity are finding few ports in this global storm.

The question most leaders are facing, then, is this: How do we move forward in such uniquely uncertain circumstances? Positive, effective leadership helps us navigate crises, rebuild communities, and forge ahead in moments of ambiguity. But with so many challenges colliding at the same time, many leaders may be struggling to chart a clear way forward. But it’s paramount that the leaders use all their past experience, wisdom and strategic capability pool they have in the business to analyze, comprehend and decide which way to go. 

Quickly rediscover your new purpose or re-emphasize your current purpose depending on the nature of the impact. The temptation for businesses in moments of crisis is often to get small, to hunker down and zero in on the bottom-line fundamentals and metrics. Now, instead of narrowing the focus, leaders in a crisis should consider pulling back and reminding themselves of their guiding principles.

Emphasising purpose will also signal your intentions to the wider world, instilling confidence and goodwill among stakeholders who share your principles. In times of change, employees, customers, and investors alike will gravitate towards organisations whose purpose reflects their personal values and beliefs.  So get the right alignment or realign fast. 

Galvanize trust 

The next step is to ask what action you can take to protect and support those who rely on you and the organisation — especially those who may be particularly vulnerable or whose needs are becoming increasingly acute. That means taking stock of who your stakeholders are — from customers and investors to employees, communities, and society as a whole.

It means identifying what they need — and recognising that these needs may differ in each case. And it means determining how you can serve them most effectively, from short-term decisions like how to continue operations at a time of physical distancing to other long-term considerations. It may also include potentially redesigning supply chains to support local employment while also strengthening the resiliency of operations. Your stakeholders are the people who drive and measure your success, and particularly when success feels elusive, recommitting to them can galvanize the trust, confidence, and morale required to forge ahead.

You should prioritise your emotional and organisational resilience. Even with a strong purpose and a plan to serve your extended community, your progress may not be immediately apparent. You will need to marshal resolve in order to stay the course — and to handle the kind of attention that comes from doing so.

To make that adjustment, identify and access the actions and behaviors that make you a more thoughtful and capable leader — whether that involves making time for activities that restore your energy, pursuing the space you need to gain perspective, or simply ensuring that you are getting the sleep you need. In short, find balance.

Equally important is empowering the right individuals and teams for the ‘new normal’ which may not be the same – you might have to remix and re-match the capabilities and  next level leaders you have as the leadership demands may have changed. Different leaders can handle different situations better than others – so the same structure may not be the best fit.

When faced with an overwhelming volume of critical decisions, leaders may feel the urge to limit authority and tighten control. But organisational resilience depends on more stakeholders and diverse perspectives sought from across the organization. Empowering leaders with the right temperament and character — those who stay curious and flexible and are willing to make the tough, even unpopular calls — is vital for thoughtful and swift decision making.

Every step involves choices that are tough to make even in good times, let alone in uncertain ones such as the current, but the same instincts and actions that will see us through this current global crisis will also make us stronger as we face longer-term challenges.

The ability to understand who we are and what we value, recognize our responsibilities and our opportunities, and chart a course based on our most fundamental goals while supporting our own emotional resilience and that of our organization — these are skills that will fortify us in the years and decades ahead.

As we navigate an uncertain road today, our approach to this moment will inform the way we lead tomorrow.

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