James Pinchbeck, Partner at Streets Chartered Accountants, considers leadership in the world changed by Covid.
The majority of businesses operating pre Covid-19, did so with clarity of vision, a sense of purpose and direction of travel. Established business models, decision making, working practices and workforce management ensured that businesses were able to service customer demands and meet the needs of all stakeholders. Businesses were able to trade with some certainty, whilst at the same time, had some level of resilience to deal with the impact of changes whether unique to them or arising from government policy. Overall, this was the norm.
What has changed? There is much talk about the new normal and perhaps whilst no one really can clearly define or describe it, many will have their own thoughts on what it is, looks or feels like. One thing is certain – the world of business has changed in many ways, whether it is how we work, where we work or even when we work. Even our attitudes to work have seemingly changed. For many, how customers are serviced and what they are offered has changed.
However, the big challenge comes as we start to think about the lasting changes the pandemic has and continues to have on our lives and the way businesses operate. Certainly, the impact and length of lockdown has been so significant that few, if any, businesses should think that things will return to what they were before.
As businesses trade through their lifecycle, invariably they will require different leadership styles and models to deal with the opportunities and challenges they face. Following such a significant change, organisations will now need to consider whether their leadership, strategic thinking and decision making is still fit for purpose. In the new norm or new order there is likely to be a far greater need for more collaborative leadership with less hierarchical structures. Certainly, few business leaders singularly possess the skills or qualities to deal with what is increasingly a Vuca world – one which is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.
In such a dynamic environment with such impacting change, there is a real need for business leaders with visionary outlooks, perhaps a different skill set to those charged with managing the status quo. Business leaders will also need to be more empathetic, having a greater appreciation and understanding of the needs of its employees, with compassion for both collective and individual circumstances.
Ironically in a world where we may feel overloaded with communication, there is a real need for business leaders with effective communication skills to ensure employees and all stakeholders have clear and concise awareness and understanding of the direction of travel and changes. To be truly effective, such communication has to be two way, with leaders listening to and engaging with stakeholders and not just communicating to them. Effective communication will also be key in helping to create a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose and organisational culture, especially within those businesses where staff are working remotely.
As we have seen over the last few months with the governments’ handling of the pandemic, sometimes decisions or actions don’t work out as intended. The same is often the case in business. Perhaps now more than ever, business leaders need to demonstrate humility and integrity in such an event; an approach that should at least earn the trust and respect of employees and other stakeholders.
We face challenging times ahead, which will certainly call on the skills, resolve and resilience of those running businesses, for what is likely to be more of marathon than a sprint.