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The end of 2019 was the beginning of the huge turmoil called ‘COVID19’ which quickly ran through the world, melted economies, disrupted lives and grinded leisure activities to a screeching halt. Leaders at all levels, businesses, corporates, conglomerates, states and countries had to deal with fast changing, rapidly evolving events of enormous impact on everyday basis. No doubt that the leaderships were challenged and stretched to the limits. Business leaders had to deal with financial jolts, unpredictable supply chains, interrupted revenues and health and safety of staff. Country leaders had to deal with their bit although in countries like ours, leaders can keep surviving and thriving without delivering results.
McKinsey & Company (https://www.mckinsey.com/) is a world-renowned consulting company. I am a subscriber to them for several years. McKinsey Insights is one of their publications, along with others. They have been continuously doing a great job throughout the pandemic, monitoring and analyzing and reporting. Recently Oliver Tonby, Chairman of McKinsey’s offices in Asia, had the chance to speak to Mr. Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore. I am presenting here some points from his talk in the backdrop of COVID pandemic. The themes are universal and equally applicable here. Most of these must be applied to business as well. [most of the commentary is mine]
- Good leadership makes crucial difference – A good leadership is one whom people trust; the one that is able to organize and inspire them and lead them to the envisioned objectives.
There are four key attributes here. Trust is the foundation on which leadership is perched, sometimes precariously. Trust is translated into credibility, which is established through walking the talk, being consistent, fair and just.
Organizing capability helps to use the resources judiciously and put these where needed.
Inspiring helps to build morale and courage and makes ordinary people do extraordinary tasks.
Leading ability keeps the masses focused and on course.
All four are universal in nature, situations and application.
- Leaders should depend upon and make full use of others – No one person can claim to or possibly know all there is. It has to be teamwork. Leaders must seek the suitable people to make team and work with them and trust them.
Teamwork is the key. The so-called autocratic leaders need to understand the fallibility of leading all alone.
- Leaders should be prepared for surprises and setbacks – Disregarding the authenticity of plan and its execution, the leaders should be psychologically prepared to face setbacks. If it happens, they should be able to improvise from the available situation.
- The economic impact of COVID will linger – Beyond the apparent losses, there are deeper losses which may never be recovered. In Pakistan, very few companies actually redesigned themselves to enable remote working; most worked as usual. Secondly, we do most of the work manually which requires the physical presence of staff. Thirdly, there is a huge number of low-income workers, daily-wagers, small businesses who have lost so much that they may not recover it in many years, if at all they recover. Fourthly, industries like travel, tourism and hospitality have taken life-threatening hit which has been transferred to their staff, employees, vendors and suppliers, each suffering hugely.
- The social impact of COVID will linger – The lockdowns had serious and immediate effects on family life and social relations, many of which will have longer consequences. Job losses changed the social status of families and downgraded them. This will also have long term implications.
- The political impact will be there – Handling of COVID pandemic rested on four pillars: clear information, mobilizing health services to match the need, financial sponsorship of entire populations, and preserving the future. Almost all governments failed in some way: some corrected the course on the way, others did not. In countries like ours, the governments struggled to do something, but limited resources did not allow them to do much. After a short while, the will-to-do also waned and people were left on their own, to fend for themselves. The quality of handling of pandemic may have strong impact on political landscape.
- The role of government is critical – In a crisis of this enormity, only the governments have the writ and resources to do what is needed. Private markets, businesses, insurance companies, social forums and others do have a role, but it is limited. The governments cannot absolve themselves from this responsibility. They must come forward, take charge and delver.
Leadership is important at all times. However, during times of stress, uncertainty, chaos, threats and disasters, the role of leaders becomes the critical factor between surviving or otherwise. Business leadership follows the same principles. However, this fact has not gone down very well with many business leaders. Serious soul-searching is in order.
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