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Communication, resilience and embracing uncertainty – leadership lessons for a post pandemic world

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This post is the second in our panel discussion series. Not seen part one? Read it here now.

The world has changed, and with it the way we do business. At TPCL we work with leaders in a diverse range of organisations, industries and countries, and we have seen first hand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to review, adapt and improve the way businesses operate.

What has changed? What needs to change? How can businesses respond in a way that ensures their continued success? Over the next few weeks, we’ll be exploring these issues and more through a series of panel discussions featuring TPCL’s managing partners from around the world. 

Our first panel looked at the subject of leadership itself. Leadership has always had its challenges but never more so than in times of crisis. And 2020 has certainly taken our idea of a crisis to a whole new level. 

In the first post in the series, How leadership is changing – and how it needs to change – in a post pandemic world, we looked at how the command and control style of leadership has given way to greater collaboration, the continued need for vision and direction, and why leaders need to get comfortable with the idea of not knowing.

Read on for more insights from five of TPCL’s country leaders: 

  • Annelieke Jense, TPCL’s current Chairperson 
  • Andrea Cardillo, managing partner for TPCL Italy
  • Christian Scholtes, Managing Partner for TPCL Romania
  • Deva Param, Managing Partner for TPCL Malaysia and SEA
  • Andrew McDowell, Managing Partner for TPCL UK

The importance of good communication

If listening is a particularly important skill for leaders in a situation where so much is unknown, then so is communication. Many of the people they have responsibility for will be fearful of the future and need reassurance.

“People want to know what a company is doing, what a company is trying out, what the message is, why are we here, what is our strategy around it,” says Annelieke Jense, TPCL’s global managing partner.

“Even if it’s still unknown, then you at least share what you are doing or what you are trying and that you are open for ideas. Because there is always a need for a lot of information when the world around you is very insecure.”

Listening and communication needs to happen in all directions, she adds. “Before the pandemic, we were already working a lot with our clients to make sure that it is not a siloed organization because the world is not siloed, wisdom is not siloed, the best innovation doesn’t happen in silos.

“So it’s about making sure that listening and communicating happens in a mixed group – hierarchical but also functional across the organisation. Think about how you can make sure that you get the information that gives you the most ingredients.”

Wellbeing and emotional resilience in a virtual world

Of course, both listening and communicating is a few degrees tougher in this new virtual world, with more teams operating remotely thanks to the changes lockdown forced into play. In this context, leaders have to think innovatively about things that may have been second nature in an office setting, such as the wellbeing of their teams.

Deva Param says: “The situation in the past six months has made leaders become more aware of themselves, making sure that they are closer to their teams, that the engagement of their teams remains constant and alive, and that simple things that were usually taken for granted before – like loneliness (especially when working from home)  and mental wellness – are being prioritised in their leadership.”

This people-focused aspect of the changes that have occurred over the last few months has naturally had a knock on effect on HR teams.

“HR has taken a little bit more of a prominent role on the proverbial leadership table, especially in this part of the world where HR prominence is not really there yet,” adds Deva.

“The pandemic has made the HR leader become more prominent, as everything that happens in an organisation revolves around people. They also quickly realise how important leadership’s delivery in an organisation is in times like this.”

Working collaboratively, setting a common vision, being vulnerable, employing good listening and communication skills, taking care of teams – these might all sound like the fluffier side of leadership. But there are important business outcomes too.

“It’s also about maximizing profit,” says Annelieke Jense. “Being purpose-driven and having a more social agenda supports retainment, helps recruit talent, boosts engagement. These are hard business results. It’s not fluffy stuff, it is business savviness.”

Embrace the uncertainty and start experimenting 

Although it would be ludicrous to say that the COVID-19 pandemic is anything other than a genuine disaster, for many organisations there are nevertheless positives that can be drawn from the situation.

Christian Scholtes says: “We know of companies who have struggled with HR digitalisation projects for several years and got muddled but then the pandemic happened and in a couple of months most of the blockages got dealt with effectively. That’s maybe one of the most amazing traits of the human species. In the end, when we’re facing problems, we unleash our creativity and come up with innovative solutions.”

Which is why one of the positive strategies leaders can apply to the situation we find ourselves in now is actually embracing it.

“Given that there are so many ambiguities, you might as well embrace the current context and start experimenting,” says Scholtes. “So instead of sticking to the solutions which were known to work in a more predictable environment, work with hypotheses, see what works and what doesn’t. Anyhow, you might as well enjoy the ride.”

TPCL’s managing partner in Italy, Andrea Cardillo, agrees. Coming from a country he describes as traditionally bureaucratic, he has been surprised at how quickly decisions were made and actions taken during the pandemic, both at a political and an organisational level.

“How big is our capacity to dream as leaders, and how much confidence do we have that if we can dream it, somehow we can make it happen?” he says.

“When we say ‘this is not possible,’ ‘this is not the way we do it,’ ‘it would be just too difficult,’ and so on, I think these are some of the preconceptions we often bang against without even realizing they are there.

“This pandemic has been showing us that there is almost a moral responsibility for whoever is in a position of power to keep on challenging themselves, challenging the assumptions, challenging why we like to stay comfortable and stick to the status quo versus looking at progressive, innovative ways to enhance the difference we make out there for our clients, for our society, for our people within our organisations.”

Annelieke Jense believes leaders who are willing to learn will reap the benefits of these challenging and changing times long into the future.

“In a way, a lot of the coaching principles that we integrate in our line of working are playing out,” she explains.

“If you want to improve, you work on the potential and the strengths. You see all the potential that things can happen. You see that you have the capabilities, that the organisation has shown successes in the past and you can work on overcoming the hurdles. And rather than seeing hurdles, can we look at them from another perspective?

“The whole pandemic crisis could be an example to be used in the future. We can say, look back on what you were capable of as an organization, as a team, as an individual. See what happened there, when all the assumptions were challenged. It’s a catalyst for learning that hopefully can help recreate it in future.”

Keep an eye out for our next panel discussion, which will be focusing on the boardroom, how the pandemic has impacted this leadership group, and why culture is increasingly an important strategic consideration.

@Copyright TPCL (2020)

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