2020 was a year that has tested our society like few others in recent memory, it’s safe to say that many of us are looking forward to putting this year behind us. We have navigated through incredibly turbulent times and we are not out of them yet, but there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel. As they say, a crisis draws the best out of good leaders. In short, the crisis has brought some invaluable leadership lessons. Out of them, here are the top 8 lessons that I believe might be useful to share as we work together to navigate this new world.
I, Self-aware and Mindful
This year has challenged everyone who dares to be a mindful leader, including me. Mindfulness is about being in the present moment. Being more self-aware has helped me to reflect on my thoughts, actions, decisions, and ideas. It helped me to own up to my insecurities, challenges, and mistakes and be transparent about them. This encouraged my team to step up to take charge of their challenges as well creating a culture of openness and transparency. Being mindful has helped us to tide through some of the toughest times.
Leverage diverse perspectives to build an impactful inclusive ecosystem.
2020 was a year of extraordinary pressure. Many of us were expected to make decisions quickly with incomplete and rapidly evolving information. Some of the global leaders exhibited inclusive leadership despite being in a crisis mode. They leveraged diverse perspectives to build an impactful inclusive ecosystem. Female leaders, including New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern, have provided strong leadership models during COVID-19. In India, we saw political leaders work closely with the civil society, corporates, and the local self-help groups, leveraging their networks to spread awareness on hygiene practices. Whenever the leaders have failed to co-opt the stakeholders into decision making, however the best intent was behind the decisions, it never worked well – the recent farmers’ law amendment is a case in point.
Network to build genuine relationships with a mindset to grow together
As a Founder, business development professional, and fundraiser, I have always thrived in meeting diverse people face to face – I thought that was the only way to build relationships. Come 2020, I was zoom-ed! Suddenly, I was meeting folks for the first time on video calls. I realized the principle of building an awesome network remains the same whether we are connecting online or offline. Being authentic and building genuine relationships with a mindset to grow together bridges the gap. Last year, I met some of the most incredible business leaders, professionals, and entrepreneurs who have not only become good friends but have also committed to the cause.
Connect the dots strategically to consider the Big Picture
Leaders need to lead for today, tomorrow, and beyond! That doesn’t mean we have a crystal ball – it means we have to ask, what’s next? Strategic leadership requires acknowledgment that the landscape will continue to change and coronavirus only accelerated some of the changes. It entails connecting the dots strategically to consider the ‘Big Picture’. Adar Poonawalla, CEO of vaccine maker Serum Institute of India, pledged his support for the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford vaccine, way back when the trials were in their first phase. He decided to take a bold step, bet his personal wealth and move strategically which seems to have paid off!
Enable the full potential in self and others
Widespread layoffs, furloughs, and pay cuts have been a common scenario in many organizations. But during this upheaval, some companies have thrived too. While one might argue that this is due to a shift in consumer preferences but most of these organizations could cope with the additional stress and demand as they enabled people to contribute their best. These organizations nurtured leaders and managers who are committed to making others shine and create an emotional bond with their teams.
Unleash creativity to build fearless innovative teams
During the pandemic, all the playbooks became redundant. Leaders need to have the ability to unleash the creativity and build fearless innovative teams. Innovation is about figuring out how and where you can add unique value. It’s about how you encourage your team to be fearless to come up with ideas and bring them to life. One of the teachers rigged a loudspeaker in his village so that he could continue with his lessons where kids didn’t have digital access. He inspired many others to follow in his footsteps.
Build resilience and agility to be a risk-taker
There have been several societal and economic crises that have thrown businesses into flux and have caused many to collapse. The financial crisis of 2008 is one such example. But, 2020 was an unprecedented year that tested the capability of the best businesses and leaders to survive a crisis and bounce back while sustaining a sense of purpose. Despite the noise and the pressures, they faced, I have been personally inspired by the resilient leaders in the travel and hospitality industry to keep their focus on the task at hand and also keep their heads above water.
Understand your emotions as well as empathize with others
As employees navigate new personal and professional challenges brought on by the pandemic, it’s more important than ever that the leaders lead with empathy. Connecting with your team, sharing their concerns, taking time off just to unwind has been the need of the hour. Going forward it will be imperative to be sensitive to every individual’s concerns and fears. If people don’t feel you care about them when the chips are down, they’ll know you won’t care any other time.
Covid-19 has taught us many lessons. Personally, I have used this time to reflect, not just upon the strategic and operational lessons that I can draw from this crisis, but on the team of people and the culture of the organizations surrounding me. It brought into sharp focus our collective strength and capability to imagine and innovate. As Peter Drucker quoted “I don’t know what the future holds for me but as they say – the best way to predict future is to create it”
I believe each one of us can inspire our self to be a better leader and inspire many others. #iinspire.