Business leaders across the globe have found themselves working under unprecedented conditions in the last 12 months as the world has grappled with the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. From mobilising entire workforces to work remotely, moving products and services online, and changing the business offering, to being forced to shut down completely, leaders have been under pressure like never before.
As the vaccine rollout continues and lockdown restrictions begin to lift, leaders are once again faced with new challenges. What do organisations look like now and how do they need to change to adapt to new conditions? There is still a huge amount to learn.
Hamilton Forth was delighted to host a virtual workshop this month entitled ‘Leading out of Lockdown’ presented by Atholl Duncan, author of the book ‘Leaders in Lockdown’ and chair of the Black Isle Group.
We were joined by many leaders from Scotland’s Tech sector who shared their personal insights and feelings of the past 12 months and their thoughts on what the next year would bring too. The workshop started with a video reminder of Boris Johnston closing everything down last March. We then asked the group “What three words would you use to describe how the past year has been for you?”
A mixture of words came out from the group which included; reflective, challenging, overwhelming and ‘groundhog day’, through to recharge, enriching, grateful and opportunity. As a group we listened to inside stories of how well-respected leaders in industry have responded to the events of the past year. We heard from Leena Nair, Chief HR Officer of Unilever, Mark Thompson, President and CEO of The New York Times and from Pocket Sun, the inspiring Venture Capitalist & Co-founder of SoGal. They all pondered if this moment in time could spark a revolution in the way we lived and worked.
Looking forward Atholl discussed the megatrends that may emerge through seven key themes which will come from the crisis, which he expands on further in his book, Leaders in Lockdown.
The New Age of Purpose
Leena Nair of Unilever has been in the vanguard of leading with purpose in recent years, but explained that during lockdown this has been truly elevated. At Livingson James Group we too have been led by our purpose which is “We are here to advise and support people and organisations to realise their potential so that together we can impact lives and communities for the better”. Any major decisions or introductions of new products has our purpose at the heart of it. We are seeing an increasing number of businesses and their employees focussing on purpose with the sentiment that the pursuit of profit is no longer enough.
The New World of Work
There was a strong agreement among the leaders in lockdown that there will be a new world of work where there is an existential change in the way we work. It has implications for offices, scheduling, commuting, business travel and productivity. Atholl also explained that the concept of ‘presenteeism’ is dead.
The pandemic exposed inequality in so many ways. The killing of George Floyd was a reminder of widespread racial injustice. Gender equality was also brought into even sharper focus. It is clear leaders will now have to tackle inequality and will have to do this at the forefront. In his book Atholl quotes Marian Salzman who says, “We need to inject humanity into leadership”.
Post COVID-19, business leadership has a crucial role to play in trying to rebuild international alliances. Atholl’s leaders in lockdown saw the urgent need for cooperation. They didn’t hold out much faith in our politicians to lead this in the immediate future. So, corporations and their leaders will have to lay their part, more than ever, in coming together to solve global issues for the sake of humanity.
Resilience was a key theme during our group discussion, with all leaders demonstrating resilience like never before having undergone the physical and mental stress of keeping their organisations alive, with the added pressure of navigating their organisations forward in uncertain times. We feel that employers will begin to look at measuring executive candidates’ resilience as part of future talent acquisition processes.
Resetting the Supply Chain
Closed borders and geopolitical tensions lead many leaders in lockdown to believe that supply chains must become simpler and closer to home. The Suez Canal blockage further demonstrated that the global supply chain is weak. It alone held up an estimated $10bn in trade. Some leaders in lockdown suggest that automation and robotics will drive manufacturing back to Europe and the West without the need for human workers and many would love to see a return to local products and a more community focussed supply chain.
Atholl says there is a strong feeling that COVID-19 has seen the triumph of the empathetic and compassionate leader and the death of the “Superman leader”. Our group agreed that a new style of leader will be born out of the pandemic. Different mindsets, approaches, and structures will be required to maximise the potential of the virtual and remote workforce.
Overall it was a very enjoyable session, with some great insights from the past 12 months shared. A final quote from one of the leaders Sir David Behan summed up the sentiment of the discussion particularly well: “We are judged as leaders not on what we are like when the going is good. We are judged as leaders on what we are like when the going is tough”.
Atholl Duncan’s book Leaders in Lockdown is available at Waterstones and Amazon. If you are interested in hearing more about this event or attending other Hamilton Forth events, please contact [email protected]