Leadership is in a state of flux. Owing to the devasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, executives and managers are having to shift their mindsets from ‘respond’ to ‘recover.’ We are no longer at a point where we can patch up holes as they appear. Some of our organisations are being gutted and we may have to build from the ground up. That takes a type of resilience many of us have never had to display before.
“The historic challenge for leaders is to manage the crisis while building for the future” – Henry Kissinger.
None of us like giving up. When you are passionate and committed to seeing something grow, it is painful saying goodbye. We all prefer to save something that is wilting then replace it with something new.
Undoubtedly, this desire to preserve is a noble quality. It reflects a strength of character that is hard to come by these days. This trait is especially attractive in leaders, given the task they are entrusted with. We cannot keep binning organisational plans and business strategies as soon as the going gets tough; we need our executives to adapt to their surroundings and find a way forward. If we started from scratch every time our plans got derailed, we would never get anywhere.
Pleasingly, we have seen this malleability in abundance throughout the Coronavirus shut down period. Executives have calmly guided us into the new world of at-home work and assisted our organisations in adapting to this new reality. Without this agility, who knows where we would be – at both an organisational and societal level.
However, sometimes we are faced with such an extreme crisis that adaptability is no longer desirable. Even the most loyal, committed person has to accept when it is time to try something new. Take a dying houseplant for instance: there comes a point where no amount of water or sunlight will fix it. At that point, the wise leader will recognise that it is time to go to Bunnings and purchase a new one. They will put aside their emotions and instinct to preserve to do what is appropriate.
That is the stage many executives find themselves at when it comes to their organisations. COVID-19 has left a trail of economic tears in its wake. Business strategies and forecasts have been torn to shreds. In this environment, executives must let go of the past and embrace the future: Recovery, rather than adaptation, needs to be at the forefront of their minds.
Punit Renjen, writing for Deloitte, puts this transition perfectly: “Resilient leaders need to shift the mindset of their teams from ‘today’ to ‘tomorrow’, which involves several changes that have important implications for the path to recovery.”
What Renjen means by this is that we need to start looking beyond patching up the holes in our plans that exist today. While it is essential that we deal with the most pressing problems, we need to start looking towards ‘tomorrow’ if we are to navigate the turbulent waters ahead.
Consider new research from Nielsen that suggests, after the crisis, many consumers may maintain their current buying habits, which take them away from places of business. This could mean an even more accelerated shift towards a home delivery society. This is a factor our business plans have not accounted for and that can only be addressed by completely rewriting our current predictions.
What will undergird the executive’s journey towards organisational recovery is resilience. This is not confined to the individual level; systemic resilience will be pivotal to your organisation thriving in the future. It is one thing to put the pieces back together when something breaks; it takes a different kind of resilience to create something new altogether.
That is the responsibility executives are being invested with as we enter a new stage of the pandemic.
The key takeaway is this: We are now fighting a war on two fronts. We fight for our present prosperity, but also our future. Executives must do more than adapt to their surroundings as they change. They need to precipitate what is on the horizon and plan for a future that has not yet arrived.
To be resilient is not to climb back to the wrung of the ladder you were clinging to when you were knocked off; it means climbing even higher to get ahead of everyone else.
Our message is simple: Resilience will be the central tenet of leadership for the foreseeable future.