Real Leaders

A Time for Change: A Few Thoughts on What COVID Has Taught Business Leaders

A simple search on Amazon reveals more than 100,000 results for leadership books. Not one of them contains the script for the current pandemic scenario.

COVID taught us many things. One of them was that the way we are running our businesses and our society is not fit for the future.

Society is relying on our corporate leaders to change the way things were. Society too. Transformation is needed. It’s needed quickly. We may need a new American way. We do need a new world order.

As the pandemic enters its second year, recovery seems a Herculean task. As Zen put it, “The obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.”

We have already woken up to the fact that it’s a waste of time and energy making millions of workers take agonizing daily commutes to soulless city offices. Now we need to create an entirely new world of work. One that genuinely respects diversity and inclusion and works to a higher purpose than profit.

We need to face up to the black hole of unemployment—which unequally strikes our women, Black and Latino co-workers, and our youth. We need to address the digital divide that sees poorer families excluded from the same education as others and leaves more than 40 million unable to reach the internet.

We have been given the starkest notice of the fragility of humanity and the world we inhabit. We need business leaders who can save our planet before it’s too late.

We need leaders who will recognize the behavioral and consumer trends that will cement a new way of life as vaccines jab into more American arms. We will travel less. We should prefer local produce. The doctrine of globalization will need to be re-thought. We must reform our health and care services with technology and telemedicine at the heart of a new way to treat the sick.

Attitudes to physical and mental well-being in the workplace will change. Right now, so many people are just exhausted. Our leaders must press stop on the treadmill of corporate life and seek a better way.

Employees need a different way to be inspired, engaged and motivated. COVID must herald the end of the Superman command-and-control boss and the beginning of a new era of compassionate leaders.

The current crisis is proof that any group of human beings’ real potential is only realized when they are united behind a common purpose that they believe in. Purpose must be put at the heart of all meaningful enterprises in a way that meets the wishes of consumers, employees, and investors.

May we also see the death of so much corporate hypocrisy? For years consumers have promised to vote with their wallets against the corporations who don’t behave and in favor of those who do. May that moment have truly arrived?

The challenge for our corporate leaders is to take these issues and create that new world order. We owe it to the 122 million who’ve been infected so far and the 2.7 million who’ve died.

In time, this may be as great a challenge as dealing with the deadly virus itself.

Atholl Duncan, shares his thoughts on an astonishing time for business leaders. He asks “what have we learned, from leading in lockdown?”

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