Leadership teams should bottle the pandemic spirit

Last week’s VE Day marked the 75th anniversary of the Allied victory in Europe. It came at a time when many countries, not least the UK, are facing up to their biggest test since World War II as coronavirus continues to devastate people’s lives and livelihoods. And while it might be a very different challenge from armed conflict, many people, not least politicians, like to parade their military metaphors by describing the pandemic as a battle or a war to be won. Whether you agree with that colourful language or not, it reminded me that people have often talked about ‘bottling the Blitz spirit’; remembering a time when individuals and communities pulled together under tremendous hardship and adversity.

For organisations’ executive and leadership teams, who were forced to change the way they function almost overnight, I think there is a new spirit emerging that businesses are keen to ‘bottle’ as a blueprint and way of working for the future.

This new energy and dynamism in the leadership teams I work with, is characterised by five clear areas of behaviour:

1. Alignment, focus and purpose
Exec teams have brought more clarity to their meetings which comes with having a clear, critical and often overwhelming sense of purpose. When teams are committed to a joint purpose, they tend to be better aligned and focused on what they need to do, and what their roles are. As one CEO from a major airline told me, “the focus that has come from the enormity of the decisions we are having to make has brought us together in an unprecedented way.”

2. Intensity and informality
Virtual meetings are the new norm, bringing an intensity that can be lacking in the less regular and structured formality of the monthly exco. The informality of web-conferencing – with windows into people’s lives, families and homes – can and has created a human connection and warmth that might take years to develop in normal working times.

3. Decisiveness and agility
The number and speed of decisions being asked of executives is extraordinary. A few weeks ago many more people would have been involved in decisions such as closing retail stores, call centres or whether to furlough 1000s of staff… but there is no time to debate, to include everyone in the decisions. Some exco’s have created sub-groups to deal with operational decisions and separated them from those making future/post-covid strategy plans. Many leadership teams are making decisions that pivot completely from where they had planned to be, reversing decisions on hiring, capital investment, product launches and store openings. This is requiring agility of thinking and use of data but is also relying on instinct and intuition. For some its over-whelming and they are withdrawing slightly from the team. But others are thriving on the energy and adrenaline, and many are describing how refreshing it is to feel less bureaucracy and hierarchy.

4. Compassion and empathy
My colleague Hande Yasargil has recently posted on how leaders, regardless of their gender, need to tap into their feminine and masculine qualities during a crisis, and I’m seeing more of the leaders I work with display the sort of compassion and empathy now that was perhaps not as evident pre-pandemic. In many ways it’s a happy consequence of those more informal meetings we’ve all been having, but it also comes from a genuine concern for each other’s welfare that transcends the business. The pandemic has given us permission to ask each other about our health and wellbeing in a way that perhaps was deemed “too personal” for some in the past. This is how the best leaders are really creating followership right now and those employees who feel cared for are working extremely hard for their organisations and their leaders.

5. Authenticity
Leaders are dropping the mask they so often put on when they enter the office and their teams and employees throughout the wider organisation are responding to the ‘real, authentic you’. In this age, more than ever, employees respect the genuine human qualities that we all have but so often hide in a work environment. Showing your true self and having the courage to reveal vulnerabilities is not a weakness – it’s a strength.

No going back
We all know that we will not be going back to the old ways of doing things – there is a new operating model emerging. The lessons that we learn now must inform the way we behave and work, and the leaders and leadership teams that carry those lessons forward will be the ones best equipped to help their businesses succeed in the post-pandemic world.