Leadership and governance in the context of Covid-19

April 23, 2022

The globe is passing through an epoch of leadership tests, and the ongoing crisis responses are providing opportunities to evaluate, learn, and analyse leadership. In response to the Covid-19 blow, leaders around the world are focusing on the situation with the hope of overcoming the crisis. This is not easy when there is widespread grimness– news of losing family members, neighbours, peers; or incidences of losing jobs and confronting economic hardships.  However, it is the time when spirited souls continue to speak about solutions and hope– ‘the leaders’. Effective leaders are expected to deliver by leading against all odds, and leading towards a better tomorrow overpowering this unprecedented critical situation.

The speed of Covid-19 devastation surprised everybody. It reminds the famous quotes by the revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Lenin– ‘There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen’. It is for the first time when the interconnections amongst public health, economic factors, social issues, environmental aspects, business ventures, and emotional matters became strongly visible. Allocating strength and resources for ensuring a delicate balance of economic, social, and emotional goals worked well to handle the most devastating all-out attack -the blow of Covid-19.

Supply-side disruption has changed or is changing the market landscape of goods and services. There are common recognitions and acceptances that major changes and transformations are needed to sustain. Change became even more powerful force for the corporate ladders in this new normal regime. Speed and flexibility seemed to be amplified dramatically in the business world. The crisis has made speed a priority for most business organisations. Competencies in business continuity, enterprise agility and innovation are essential imperatives to their businesses today. Agile Leadership diagnoses the need for the organisational change and rapidly implements the change. Operating models need to be fast and frictionless to create ways of working that agility. However, it is daunting to harness the speed and take charge in this fast-changing landscape.

Probably, the only recognised solution in the hands of the businesses is to undergo a digital transformation to achieve changes by utilising virtual power and innovative technologies. The leaders of the transformation are resorting to technology to handle challenges and avail opportunities. The rapid development of global technology has revolutionised the way the world interacts, and businesses are trying to remain agile and strategic to constantly adapt to digital markets. Leaders have become more trusting of what technology can do, and they are pushing ahead with digital transformation. Reliance on technology platforms became more acute and results are also delivered. It is not that new technology was suddenly revealed and executed; rather, the available technology and tools are deployed to optimum potential. Previous barriers to implementation were naturally solved in many instances.

Leaders need to make tough decisions and work through tough choices faster. The business world is witnessing shifting of priorities radically. Fixing right priorities at the right time became an extremely complex decision.  Not taking big decisions might be even more damaging. One may not have time to speculate what the decision or change may bring. Changes will have to be made and it will not be easy. Especially, it is difficult to make decisions fast with incomplete information. Multifaceted and interdependent problems require authentic data and understanding across a broad network of people. To minimize access-gap and asymmetric information, leaders need to reward cooperation and connections across their systems. The digital world seems to amplify the sound of decision-making while condensing time. Identifying right reshaped leadership approach to address the scenario is difficult when industry-specific tactic would be unique. 

Leaders are expected to work for competitiveness and workforce resilience. A well-groomed group of spirited co-leaders would be the right companion to any business and economic entity at this moment. Motivation has become existential for businesses in the context of Covid-19 adaptation. It is probably the participative leadership that is coming up to handle the situation that affects individuals’ work contexts, provides them with essential working resources, and enhances their motivation levels. This is about establishing progressive interpersonal relations and energizing the by nurturing employees’ workplace thriving. The art of optimizing participation of the employees and developing ownership to dedicate for the organizing might prove to be particularly crucial for consolidation and progress. It is important to remember that not every member of a team is ready to embrace the on-going change, and leaders have to address the challenge.

It is time that businesses should assess demand-side and the clients with a fresher outlook.  Good thing is that demand side has become ready and comfortable to be part of the growing technology driven market format. But market expectations of the well-off sections have gone up. Probably it is time for addressing hyper personalization and offering much wider product or service options to the middle and upper-income class to ensure their boundless satisfaction. How should the business entities react to come to the level of expectations of the customers!

Boards are facing a complex new reality in response to the Covid-19 devastation. Though certain fundamentals of ‘sound corporate governance’ remained intact, several governance approaches are getting reshaped.  Business entities and corporates are relying on systems approach. Enterprise risk management approach and extensive involvement and responsible behavior on the part of governing board and top leadership have become crucial in this vulnerable circumstance. The new environment is characterized by pressures and demands to take care of the interest of all stakeholders. Changing trends are complicating decision-making process of the board and challenging the popular corporate goal of maximizing shareholders’ interests that guided boards and business leaders for years. The situation demands better accountability, greater transparency, and responsibility to the society and environment. 

Unfortunately, income disparity has gone up in response to the Covid-19 destruction which may turn even worse. A period of relatively higher inflation in near future may create further pressure on low income people. The leadership must behave responsibly to take care of the interest of the low income people, and to the environmental degradation concerns. Health concerns and community engagement received deserving priority to the responsible business entities during the devastation phases of the pandemic. It is challenging to ensure a delicate balance of financial and social goals by the businesses. Ultimately, it is not only about moving fast, it is also about supporting stakeholders and society to move together. 

Today, the power of market predictions by charismatic business leaders is challenged.  The regular approach of market predictability is defied and does not sound logical in this new normal. Amid uncertainties, the economic and business world is engaged in rediscovering and sustaining on a slippery path under effective leadership. Having our individual and competitive business goals and targets, we are required to cooperate for the greater collectivity to survive and to sustain. 

Dr. Shah Md. Ahsan Habib is professor, Bangladesh Institute of Bank Management (BIBM), Dhaka. [email protected]

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