The Post-Covid-19 Warrior

Attributes to look out for in your future leaders

By Ratneshwar Banerjee

‘We are all in the Gutter but some of us are looking at the Stars’ – Oscar Wilde 

These words by Oscar Wilde are my personal favourite and today it resonates with me more than ever. It would be fair to say that the Corona Virus has brought most businesses to a grinding halt barring a few exceptions. Organisations across the globe are in damage control mode and implementing cost optimisation and business continuity measures to reduce the muck we all find ourselves in. While businesses are looking left and right to assess the muck, how many businesses are really looking up during these times to see the stars above them? Most businesses are actively drawing up a contingency plan, but how many are drawing up a post-crisis growth plan? Think about how your organisation is responding to the crisis and you might find the answers.

The competencies that worked yesterday may not guarantee success in the future and there is a definite need to pragmatically look at what really will be the key to success post the COVID-19 Crisis. Traditionally, some of the leadership competencies desired by businesses have been Visioning Ability, Big Picture/Strategic Thinking, Inspirational, Innovativeness, Ownership, emotional competence, empathy etc.

While these competencies will still hold key to leadership success, there is a need for businesses to augment or retune these competencies to identify or groom successful post-COVID-19 Warriors – the future leaders.

  • Agile Visioning ability combined with Vigour: The road ahead will be full of opportunities but with its share of pitfalls too. The future leader must be nimble-footed, think big, plan small and change course as required to avoid pitfalls. As the CPO of a Venture fund once told me: Start-ups must follow the QSQT philosophy – Quarter Se Quarter Tak. I used a Bollywood reference there and the Hindi movie buffs will get that one. But what it essentially means is that the start-up environment is so dynamic that strategies turn on its head with each passing quarter. In many ways, the same is going to hold true for larger organisations as well. Things are going to evolve rapidly and only the agile leader with a good foresight will be able to navigate the journey well. The future leader should not only be able to view the road ahead but also embark on it with a good amount of vigour. Walking the talk will be extremely critical for a leader to make the organisation believe in the path and join the journey with renewed passion. The vigour shown by the leader will inject the much-needed boost to the sagging business & workforce morale. The effort and the hard work must trickle from the top for it to have a cascading effect on the rest of the organisation.
  • Innovativeness with Ingenuity: Innovativeness alone will not guarantee success. The post-COVID-19 period will be an important period for businesses to reinvent themselves. Leaders with ingenuity will be unconventional in their approach and have an ability to identify opportunities amidst all the crisis. Eg: In 2009, the peak of the recession, Netflix gained 3 million members. This was due to their new tv/movie streaming plan, which allowed subscribers to stream an unlimited amount of entertainment a month, along with their disc-delivery service. By adding a variety of price plans and different services, Netflix became notable for what they did, their customer service, and eventually brand recognition. As of today, Netflix continues to be the top OTT (over-the-top) platform across the world. Some recent examples include Swiggy, Amazon, Dunzo, Cure, Fit etc. which were able to swiftly respond to the situation and created new opportunities for themselves in this crisis.
  • Inspiration combined with Upliftment: All human beings have an emotional side to them - some more than others. As a leader, one will not only need to be inspirational but also uplift the collective morale of the organisation, which may not be high due to the decisions taken during the crisis period and unfavourable business circumstances. The more participative and transparent the future leader is, the easier it will be to uplift the general sentiments across the board.
  • Emotional Balance with Empathy: Leadership during and after crisis demands a fine blend of emotional balance with empathy. A leader’s ability to stay or not stay calm during a crisis has a direct bearing on the stress levels at the lower levels. A leader with low emotional balance and low empathy will appear as a self-absorbed leader that will have a catastrophic effect on the business. Even an over empathetic leader risks not being able to take business prudent decisions and may appear over charitable. An ideal leader should be able to toggle between the two according to the situation. To make things clearer, let me illustrate this with a matrix.

  • Crisis Management with forward-thinking: Needless to say, it is natural to have a defence mechanism against unexpected developments and it is quite practical for leaders to plan for the crisis, which may often involve unpopular decisions. If the crisis response can be combined with a practical & realistic growth plan, it will help leaders retain top talent and also involve them in identifying and building opportunities for the post-crisis period. Forward-thinking may not always need to be big thinking but also about keeping things simple. Eg: By keeping things simple while large lenders set out on corporate ventures during the Recession, Wells Fargo survived and even grew. Wells Fargo’s business model focused on the selling of financial products in a branch atmosphere and to develop a diverse lending system that lends not only to real estate but also to small businesses, energy and agriculture, and those looking to pay off car loans. While other banks were looking to increase their branch number in any way possible, Wells Fargo kept things to a minimum and only taking on Wachovia, which doubled its East Coast branches and helped Wells Fargo gain capital, allowing it to stay successful today and in the future.

With all the job losses across industries during this period, there will not be a shortage of leaders out in the market. Which makes it even more critical for matured businesses to invest in identifying the right talent and mitigate the risks with critical roles – either internally promoted or acquired externally. This can also be illustrated with a simple matrix as below:

Businesses need to constantly recalibrate their leadership frameworks in order to stay relevant in this ever-evolving and dynamic scenario. As one recruiting leader recently told me, it is very important to have CLOTH – Clarity of Thought, while identifying leaders. 

I would also like to submit to the fact that these are my personal opinions based on my experience and interactions over the years with business leaders.

I would be happy if you could share your feedback of thoughts with me and you are welcome to connect with me if you have any suggestions on areas of improvement or if you would like inputs on any other areas.

Ratneshwar Banerjee | Principal Consultant