Leadership for an unchartered future

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of and need for strong leadership. Executives are under pressure to take urgent strategic action, but the same old ways of leading and communicating don’t necessarily apply any longer. Business leaders have a chance to think differently. We should take it.

A global emergency like the one we are now living through presents an opportunity to reevaluate how we do certain things: leadership is one of them. Leadership revolves around a number of key functions. Making decisions, motivating and inspiring your teams, setting the tone, creating a collective vision and designing an environment where your teams can thrive are all elements of successful leadership.

Agile decision-making

Digitally-native, insight-driven organizations are best prepared to demonstrate resilience, keep their businesses running and retain their market position during the COVID-19 crisis. Fact-based analytics and turning data into insights have always been central to success in the digital era. Leveraging digital insights can help you make better-informed decisions that lead to growth, business evolution, and ultimately an improved bottom line. Using data reporting and analysis tools helps you make the best data-driven decisions. This remains true even during a disruptive event like COVID-19: you are just working with different kinds of data from usual.

One way APAC enterprises can enable faster, more effective data-driven decision-making is by using a master data management (MDM) tool. With data to be collected from so many sources, a solution that pulls together multiple types of data into a central, intelligible store is advisable and ensures the data you make your decisions from is qualified.

Furthermore, data powers agility: smart use of data enables companies to analyze interactions with customers and then more accurately target sales and marketing activities at them. Many companies don’t always know what data they have, so by collecting it together, centralizing it, analyzing it and using it, your decision-making becomes better informed and your company is able to react and pivot more readily when you need it to. You are more agile.

Disruptive thinking to motivate and inspire your teams

The COVID-19 crisis is a world-changing, disruptive event but is also a chance to consider different approaches to leadership. On top of using data for insights and decision-making, we can think differently by using a disruptive mindset. This is where leadership is powered by change and new ideas to inspire your teams in new ways.

Disruptive thinking can enable senior executives to come up with new norms and change traditional ways of working. For example, with so many workers now working from home, business leaders should focus on results and outcomes rather than time spent, experiment with different meeting formats and schedules, and make changes that encourage workers to employ greater flexibility, agility and collaboration.

Transparent and frequent communication

The COVID-19 emergency also presents an opportunity to change the way leaders communicate with teams. With so many workers working remotely, we have the chance to use openness and transparency to drive greater trust and reciprocity from teams. There is no such thing as too much communication right now – your teams want and need to be involved – but the right communication counts.

Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, recently wrote: “Transparency is ‘job one’ for leaders in a crisis. Be clear what you know, what you don’t know, and what you are doing to learn more.”

Remote working teams’ information needs have also evolved. They are working with unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) tools they might not have used before, and interacting with you, the boss, in ways they probably haven’t before, too. Your communications should be clear, simple and frequent, and your workers will appreciate that you lead with clarity.

Frequent, considered communication shows that you’re a leader who is following the situation as it evolves and adjusting your responses in line with what you learn. According to Brunswick’s Connected Leadership research, “a strong digital leadership platform is a necessary element of crisis preparedness and resiliency. Eighty percent of employees expect to hear from a CEO on social media during a crisis.”

Trust to build a collective vision

In a time of crisis, your workers want reassurance from you, as you are leading them through an unprecedented time. The COVID-19 crisis will eventually end, so it is important to give your teams a clear vision of what that end will look like and how your leadership will help them get there.

Trust is important in a crisis, too. At such times, you should be honest with your teams and do not be afraid to let them see vulnerability or emotion. Transparency can help you build loyalty, build a collective vision and lead more effectively. Encourage your teams to speak up and share any feedback or concerns they have. Openness like this fosters trust and reduces uncertainty.

MIT Sloan Management review says, “Research has shown that trust is at the foundation of cooperative and collaborative leadership. The COVID-19 outbreak offers numerous tests of trust as well as the opportunity to be a hero to associates. Trust is built through dialog and actions, not proclamations and intentions.”

A collective vision shouldn’t stop once the crisis has eased: giving your teams an optimistic, realistic outlook can be a powerful leadership tool and help inspire your employees to support the company’s recovery.

Aim high and lead better

As we live through the COVID-19 pandemic, business leaders have a great chance to display leadership and inspire employees. As we move forward, the world of work will continue to be very different and, longer term, possibly very different from what employees were used to before. That would make reverting to the same leadership techniques and ways of working as before a missed opportunity.

What we have learned in the past few months can help us to build a better new normal. At Orange, we are conducting a post-COVID-19 study around what we might learn from our customers, our partners and our own employees. New techniques, different ways of leading, and showing the ability to energize employees through different approaches can motivate your company to new heights. Aim high.

To find out how Orange can help business leaders drive resilience in their organizations and mitigate the risks of disruption during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond, read our ebook: Be resilient at all times – 5 strategies forward.

Mark Tan

Mark Tan is Vice President Global Solutions & Marketing, Asia Pacific at Orange Business and has more than 20 years of experience in ICT across Asia Pacific supporting global organizations in their IT transformation journey.
At Orange Business, Mark is responsible for Global Solutions and Marketing in Asia Pacific, covering Universal Communications & Collaboration, Enterprise Integration Services & Service Management and the security portfolio offered by Orange Cyberdefense. Before joining Orange, Mark was APAC CIO for Publicis Groupe.