2020 was a ride.
We had to have the agility for a sprint, while ensuring we maintained our endurance for a marathon. Since the beginning of 2020, Covid-19 has had a stark impact on businesses globally. Many tightened their belts in preparation of a bumpy ride. No one expected the severity of what we had to endure. Several companies had to reduce their workforce and scrape non-core projects and initiatives. This is never an easy task.
On the back of the pandemic, teams had to adjust to new ways of working. Leaders at every level had to create effective responses to the situation. We saw many leaders respond in ways that may have seem unconventional. That aside, the key is to ensure that it can be carried on into future endeavours.
I am highlighting 3 leadership qualities that I would like to carry into the new year. Whether it’s in business, or out on the sports field, these are qualities that will be useful to have when faced with challenges.
1. Trust your team
Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity Payments, was transparent with his team. Gravity Payments was losing huge sums of money every month. Small businesses staying shut during the pandemic resulted in a decline in payment processing fees they were receiving. He engaged his team of 200, and explained that they only had enough funds to last them a few months.
The solution he offered them was simple — we want to avoid layoffs, will you anonymously volunteer to have your pay cut? The results surprised him. Some offered a 50% cut on their pay (which was the cap allowed), some offered their total pay, while others offered what they deemed to be fair for themselves. This allowed the company to extend its runway for another 6–12 months. The cut was not permanent. By late summer, Dan Price was confident enough in a recovery that he paid all his employees back.
Rather than cutting the team, he trusted that his people would be able to adapt to the change ahead of them. Giving them control over the situation allowed them to work for what they believe they should do.
2. Empathy, kindness, and compassion are strengths
Leaders should possess the traditional characteristics of intelligence, strength, and expertise. This year has also shown that social and emotional competence are also essential. With the disruptive shift to remote work coupled with periods of uncertainties, people will remember how you made them feel, whether negatively or positively.
Jacinda Arden, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, has set a high bar on leadership. She approaches matters with empathy, and compassion, and stays firm and disciplined with her decisions.
The 2019 terrorist attack in Christchurch is a good example. Rather than wasting her energy on the perpetrator, she focused on the victims and their loved ones, uniting the whole country. Likewise, when Covid hit early this year, New Zealand was one of the first countries to shut their borders. Jacinda and her team held Q&A sessions on Facebook Live. They answered questions posed by the community, maintaining transparency in their communication. When the economy started picking up, her government encouraged 4 day work weeks. This helped boost local tourism and helped address the persistent work/life balance for better mental health.
Leadership is often associated with position and power. It’s easy to be caught in the stress of making decisions under pressure. If there’s a page we can take from Jacinda Arden’s playbook, it’s to remember to show solidarity with the people you lead. Be humane in the way you respond, and respect the people around you when making decisions.
“To me, leadership is not about necessarily being the loudest in the room, but instead being the bridge, or the thing that is missing in the discussion and trying to build a consensus from there.” — Jacinda Arden
3. Embrace Agility
Every leader has their own unique personality and their own way of strategising around the circumstances they are in. One important concept of agility I’ve come across is that there is no right or wrong answer. The decisions made are dependent on the context of the situation. There is no playbook one has to abide. Nor is one person’s style of leadership the only way. Strong leaders work hard for personal growth, avoid complacency and understand what works well and what can be improved.
While the concept of agility isn’t new, it has become more prevalent in the last 2 years. One of the best examples of agile leadership in the 21st century is Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. He always stresses that Amazon’s ultimate North Star is the creation of long-term shareholder value. He has done this while keeping a customer-first mindset. He continuously creates new businesses for the benefit of the consumers. He allows his team to shift and create as they see fit. Amazon encourages its employees to experiment and recognises that there will be failures. This gives the team a comfortable room for their own productivity. When you fail, you also attain new skillsets. This has allowed the team to innovate and create products that have given Amazon market leadership over competitors.
Whether it’s leading a country of 200 million, an organisation of 150 people, or a sports team of 7, the principals of good leadership are the same. Trust your people, communicate with empathy, and encourage creativity without prejudice. By being inclusive, and keeping a positive tone, this strengthens team cohesion to weather the biggest storms.
Mey Chyi is a finance professional learning the ways of the world. She is enthusiastic about fitness and caffeine, and is happiest when she’s reading and writing. She loves connecting with people through topics of mental health, shared experiences, and travel. She’s based between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
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