Use COVID-19 lessons to positively influence your leadership

[Australasian Law Management Journal,General Management,Marketing & Business Development,People Management(HR),Strategy & Leadership,Uncategorized] April 29, 2020

The decisive actions of some political leaders and the fallout for many firms from COVID-19 has challenged many business assumptions and provided lessons and inspiration for law firms as they seek to emerge from the pandemic with new and better ways of operating for employees and clients, writes Keegan Luiters.

During the global financial crisis just over a decade ago, Rahm Emanuel, an advisor to then President Barack Obama, used a phrase that he has repeated in the past month.

“Never allow a crisis to go to waste,” he said, then and now. In today’s context, he means that we can “start planning for the future”. “This has to be the last pandemic that creates an economic depression,” he said. “We’re going to have more pandemics, but this has to be the last economic depression.”*

The same principle applies for each of us as leaders and the businesses of which we are part. COVID-19 presents us with an opportunity that we may not have imagined, but which we cannot deny. Many of the assumptions that we have been operating under have been challenged. Some have been exposed as a reflection of our experiences and preferences, rather than as an accurate representation of what is possible.

We have seen this from a number of angles and at different levels – from the very personal through to the global. What this offers us is the opportunity to consider our own views of what we are experiencing and how we want this experience to shape the way that we operate individually, as business leaders and as a part of the societies that we are interdependent upon. Below are a few of the assumptions that many people have seen challenged or brought into focus as a result of the pandemic.

1. The stability myth

Our assumptions about the stability of many businesses have been challenged. We have seen large and well-established companies forced to dig deep into their reserves and scale back their operations – in some cases towards the edge of administration or beyond. It has also hit closer to home as factors outside their direct control have forced law firms to rapidly assess their own viability in both the short and long term.

2. Quick or the dead

Our assumptions about how quickly significant changes and decisions can be made at large scale have been challenged. Never before have we seen governments place such sweeping changes on travel, shopping, socialising and its own spending in such a short period of time. Leaders at all levels (in Australia and New Zealand at least!) acted swiftly and acknowledged the fact that the speed of the decision was of greater importance than awaiting a perfect solution (which does not exist).

They adjusted their approaches based on the emerging evidence and had a heightened degree of transparency around the rationale of their decision-making. It’s hard not to believe that these factors have led to the overwhelming level of compliance and maintenance of what could objectively be viewed as infringements on individual rights in both of these countries. There are lessons here for us in our own leadership roles and whether people are as resistant to change as we have told ourselves.

3. Workplace rethink

Our assumptions of what is essential have been challenged. Three months ago, toilet paper wasn’t a status symbol and nurses were not being given a round of applause for their contribution to society.

In business terms, we have been forced to face the fact that we are able to do much of our work without the need for our teams to be in the office during business hours, and despite the fact that we have been unable to travel for client work. When, how and where work is getting done has changed – possibly forever.

A well-used and relevant proverb of unclear origin suggests that “the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is now”. The same thing can be said for many of the lessons that have been thrust upon leaders in these times.

Think about technical skills (embracing technology and the capacity to work remotely), strategic capability (building in resilience and agility into a firm’s practices) or philosophies that underpin leadership (your beliefs about what a leader is, the value they provide and how they execute on that). If you have embraced these concepts before now, you should be well placed to make the best out of the current conditions and should experience the value of continuing with these approaches.

If you did not plant the tree two decades ago, there may never be a better opportunity within our lifetime to develop the capabilities that grow your influence, effectiveness and resilience as a leader.

At some point, we will be able to go back to working as we knew it. But it doesn’t mean that we have to. There is an opportunity to go back to the office in a stronger, more considered way as a result of the lessons that we are learning through these times.

I trust that this reframe will help you to explore those benefits and design a way for those advantages to last after life returns to its new normal.

Keegan Luiters is an independent consultant who works with leaders, teams and organisations to lift their performance. Visit www.keeganluiters.com for more information or connect with him on LinkedIn.

* Reference for Rahm Emanuel quote:

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/rahm-emanuel-reprises-never-let-a-crisis-go-to-waste-catchphrase-amid-coronavirus-pandemic