President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS

The Covid-19 global pandemic is likely to be one of the biggest challenges faced by leaders worldwide. What makes this change so exceptional is the speed of onset as well as the breadth and severity of impact.

As a business leader, It has been awe-inspiring and humbling to see the hard work and dedication of employees and other essential service providers. In addition to these demonstrations of leadership, how will the pandemic change the way we lead

National leaders have had to make difficult decisions and will be expected to make many more as the crisis continues. Those in positions of power have had to delicately balance the health and safety of citizens with the economic impact.

Governments have swiftly introduced lockdown regulations to increase health-care capacity and decrease transmission of the virus. SA moves to level 3 on June 1, and the decisions made in this phase will have a long-lasting effect on individuals and the economy. The effects continue to be felt by those who are sick, have lost loved ones, as well as individuals who are unemployed or unable to run their small business as a result of the pandemic, and it is hard to imagine the level of suffering they experience.

The phased reopening of economies is being considered in a risk-adjusted manner. This will have to be executed in a manner that ensures the health and wellbeing of all members of society, as well as the productivity and growth of critical economic sectors. The reopening must be considered pragmatically with a view of the ecosystem in a particular sector while managing the associated risks.

The key to a successful risk-based reopening is continuous screening and testing coupled with hygiene and social-distancing protocols. People will need to continue to comply with regulations and not only act responsibly, but also be accountable for their actions.

The crisis has increased the need for certainty given its dynamic nature and the disruption to traditional ways of work. Leaders will need to chart a path forward and relevant and reliable information must form the foundation of these decisions. During this crisis the level of uncertainty has been significant, and it is this that necessities the need for transparency of metrics. This transparency will enable effective decision making and build trust across all spheres of society, business and government.

Leaders will have to adapt to a new world post Covid-19, and one of the elements most affected has been the employee environment. The traditional paradigm of a nine-to-five, five-day office job has been disrupted. Workers will now be able to work any time, anywhere, use their own devices and manage their own workloads. They will want to share knowledge via collaborative tools and drive their own careers, and democratised teaching and adaptive learning will soon become common practice.

Proactively engage

Leaders will have to proactively engage and lead effectively within a dynamic and reshaped environment. The networking element of corporate life has been changed with the shift away from the traditional water-cooler approach to digital engagement. The leader’s role will be to bridge the gap for new joiners by introducing them to pre-existing networks to ensure that they thrive through a connected workplace.

Despite expected changes, ultimately core leadership principles are still valuable. Consistent and effective communication is still essential in managing a dynamic and evolving crisis of this magnitude. Leaders need to ensure they communicate decisions quickly and effectively, so that everyone is clear on what they need to do and when they need to do it.

Agility and adaptability have come to the fore. We have seen businesses adapting to regulations by changing their business models completely. Restaurants have had to shift to delivery only, while fitness instructors are offering online classes and mental health professionals are consulting via video conferencing. Distributed leadership — mobilising leadership expertise across all levels within agreed parameters — will be observed more and more.

The crisis will require close collaboration between public and private sector leaders, an outcome we have not seen before and will require an innovative solution that can only be derived from the diversity of thought collaboration brings. Our ability to emerge from this crisis will primarily depend on the behaviour of all stakeholders.

The financial sector as a whole, organisations and regulators need to partner effectively, and ensure a co-ordinated response to the pandemic. How we act now determines the future of economic recovery and ongoing investment.

While there are many variables at play at the moment, the one certainty is that Covid-19 has changed the way we lead, as well as the way leaders are perceived in society.

• Russon is CEO of Absa Corporate & Investment Banking.