Leadership in a COVID censored world

Leaders are the ones who know the way, goes the way and shows the way, John Maxwell remarked quite poignantly.

The pertinent question is – is it enough and simplistic as it sounds?

Definitely not in a Covid-19 world, wherein the basic premise and tenets of leadership have been re-defined not by its scope but the sheer tenacity to sustain. Not to thrive but to survive & revive.

Management gurus are burning the midnight oil trying to find new phrases and models to better explain the VUCA environment, long advocated and coming short with each variant that this pandemic menace tends to innovate like our adulated Tech Unicorns. The analogy is shockingly unprecedented.

While Jack Welch showed us a management style that worked for GE in an Industrial revolution era, Elon Musk is pushing the boundaries of imagination each day in the new age, while Tim Cook emerged from the shadows of Steve to push Apple further to immortality. Satya Nadella and Jeff Bezos are surely not left behind in creating a mass niche consistently. While the western world grappled with the Asians rising like a Phoenix in a power struggle and upmanship game on Planet Earth, the Arabs found their “Hope” travel to Mars amidst all the challenges and how!

What is the lesson here?

If Tesla is continuing to rage like a cult status, it is also true that the Auto industry globally saw more than 100 bn USD wiped away from their profits in 2020!

If Amazon grew its net value to 386 bn USD in

2020 eventually, Tech’s Big 5 including Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft apparently lost 416.63 bn USD in the aftermath of the Covid-19 last year as per CNBC, on a fateful day in March’20.

Data has become the double-edged sword for Facebook ironically and Bill Michael’s moment of insanity in KPMG has pushed forth new women leaders, who are leading the pack ever more inspiringly than the patriarchal boards would have it till recently.

At the cornerstone of the above turmoil is the role of the leadership across strata of organizations, big or small, government entities or private or PPPs.

2020 whilst being a ruthless and an increasingly desperate year, has also thrown in lot of valuable insights for successful leadership to emerge gradually or dissipate with an uncanny immediacy. 2021 is still finding its feet in a business climate reminiscent of the shifting sand, directionless and ambiguous.  

Resilience, clarity of thought, understanding of ground realities, cascaded vision and ability to innovate in a risk laden environment were some of the virtues seen rarely but in abundance with successful companies.

Leadership is not about seniority or just merely to lead, but to inspire beyond redemption a belief that together we would sail through today for a better tomorrow. More than that is the consistency with which each day is made more productive and enabled with decisions that helps avoid business inertia.

It is not relegated to fancy titles or CXOs, but is exhibited by every member of the organization who believes in the vision and pushes harder than ever before, in that direction.

Knee jerk reactions are common, short sighted decision making are more the rule than the exceptions and bottomline has definitely dominated top line like never before. We have seen organizations shed critical talent through a stroke of a pen incessantly, only to struggle in consolidating differentiated know how to deal with the new business environment later.

Leaders still need to realize that the bottom-line can be optimized, only if topline is maximized. There is a threshold below which reduction in bottom-line cripples the organization to be agile and competitive. Not to mention being able to sustain.

With the Covid-19 scenario, remote working became more of a forced disposition than most of the business conglomerates could trust on productivity, even as they watched more Fortune 100 companies going through a new animal called “work from home”.  While new age Tech sectors adopted it and even drove it as a financial prudence exercise, most of the conventional sectors with old school leadership found the trust deficit quite deep, to evolve with the changing times.

Leadership is instrumental in business resurgence and at the same time in creating toxic environments too. Personalities matter and quality of human capital is always the differentiating edge.

I have been privy to a wide array of leaders & boards during my consulting and corporate stints across blue chip companies and large conglomerates, who either transformed business trajectories or sunk the ship by the sheer weight of their leadership style, cultural leanings and ability to promote meritocracy.

Innumerable real life case studies exist wherein even Egon Zehnder’s researched findings of “potential and not past performance being a true indicator of future success” falls short in reality; a superstar in X environment becomes a laggard or toxic leader in Y environment, sheerly due to the culture and empowerment quotient. The big bang approach to scalable transformation only works with despots or E-commerce startups with a steady seed capital injection, not with well-grounded businesses. Leadership sustenance and business continuity are the levers that propel or dispel compelling visions.

Leaders are indeed not born but made, in times of adversity, and this select breed will continue to re-imagine the world we will ultimately live in.

To borrow a phrase from Satya Nadella, every leader needs to measure up to these 2 fundamental questions:

Does he/she create clarity?

Does he/she create energy?

True leadership should ideally judge itself on action and others on intent, for the right mix of EQ required for continued success.