Gartner says organisations are accelerating digital transformation processes for long-term growth and profitability. It observed 53% of the organisations surveyed remain untested in the face of digital challenges and concluded that their digital transformation readiness is therefore uncertain.
Before the pandemic, the business mindset was, arguably, about growth and the pursuit of it through all means possible.
As Elaine Zhou, CEO, CNEW International observed before the pandemic, the challenges were more on the transactional level. Professional and personal lives were kept separate.
“The leaders mainly focused on the performances and whether the targets are met. And, when a director leaves the company in the past, people did not follow which reflects the relationships within the company,” she explained.
Then came 2020 and the pandemic swiftly threw a wrench at many business plans. According to McKinsey, CEOs have had to cope with extraordinary demands: for them, the pandemic has been an ultimate leadership test.
The challenge became how to restart amid uncertainty. McKinsey pointed out that CEOs are expected to show deliberate calm and bounded optimism.
Core leadership during a crisis
“Everyone wants them to demonstrate empathy—and, at the same time, be highly engaged and fact-based in their actions. They are expected to make a positive difference in people’s lives with their leadership and wield both telescope and microscope adroitly—that is, have both a coherent long-term view and a set of effective short-term fixes at hand,” said McKinsey.
In the article, Leadership During Crisis: Lessons and Applications from the COVID-19 Pandemic, the authors listed several core principles that apply to nearly every business. These include communication, a realistic view of the current state with optimism for the future, a focus on mission and core values, ability to make decisions in the setting of ambiguity, being able to plan for the long and short-term, engaging with purpose and humility, flattening the leadership structure, and looking forward.
Zhou, herself a consultant to business leaders many of whom are based in China, observed differences in how leaders approached the situation. Reflecting on the past two years, she noted that each country and leader responded differently. Some failed while others did well.
“Having resilience and maturity in a leader help embrace the uncertainties. Despite being unprepared for the challenges, the leaders should not let themselves fall into a miserable state,” she commented.
Elaine Zhou: As leaders, we need to maintain the right perspective. What makes us good and bad leaders is a matter of perspective, especially in times of crisis and uncertainties.
Our minds and right attitude help us go through difficult times. Leaders have fame, titles, good position and good income but what if all these are gone overnight? Thus, realize the importance of life and spend time with family, friends and the community.
Predictions / expectations for 2022
Elaine Zhou: With or without Covid, it will be more challenging, volatile and unpredictable both from economic and political aspects. The fact is, even after Covid, what is going back to normal is not really “normal” so we have to be optimistic and continue to learn.
How leaders should lead in 2022
Elaine Zhou: Leaders should have the ability to adapt and have clear purposes regardless of the circumstances. They should be able to make decisions and move forward.
As most of us are working from home, the interaction is affected. Leaders should be able to engage and inspire their team members. Do not be afraid to open and build relationships on a personal level as human interaction makes a big difference.
Click on the PodChat player to listen to Zhou’s discourse in detail.
- Can you describe for us how leaders behave before the pandemic, so before 2020?
- For much of 2020, how did the leaders respond? What changes did you see within the leadership that you engage with?
- Can you cite or name 3 leadership lessons that you found very relevant in 2021?
- What is your prediction for 2022?
- How should leaders then lead in 2022? What do you recommend or what do you advise these leaders in terms of how they behave and achieve their goals for 2022?