Transforming business leadership: a great challenge for overcoming the coronavirus crisis

By Marc Cortés

Leadership has always been one of the main challenges facing managers because no matter how many leadership manuals they have on hand, they always end up being confronted by the reality of the company and its teams (culture), the characteristics of their surroundings (moment) and their own skills and capabilities (experience and training).

Today, the difficulties of being a manager are more obvious than ever. An in-depth survey of more than 430 managers carried out by Esade and RocaSalvatella about the main challenges arising from the current circumstances (as a result of coronavirus), revealed that 87.5% of those interviewed thought their capabilities should change as a result of the current crisis, and that leadership would be the first skill to change.

It is not a matter of short-term leadership or temporary plans to deal with short-term challenges related to financial considerations, market access or selling goods and services, but leadership that requires structural solutions focussed on consolidating corporate culture and putting digitisation at the core of strategy, as confirmed by the managers taking part in the survey.

Manager mindmap
Source: Esade/RocaSalvatella

As Bill Gates said, "we tend to overestimate the change that will happen in the next two years and ignore the changes that will happen in the next ten minutes," and this premise should be the basis for present-day leadership, leadership that must contain a series of elements designed to create structural solutions.

87.5% of managers interviewed think their capabilities should change as a result of the current crisis

1. Vision-based leadership

We are in a situation we cannot control and the first thing is to empathise with the uncertainties of everyone in the company.

In addition to being empathetic however, now is the time to join forces with them to create a mindset of "this won’t last forever, this will definitely change us," but we must work and think about this view of the future (leadership means creating a realistic and motivational vision and sharing it with the entire setting).

2. Expansive leadership

Everyone in a company definitely has something to contribute. Now is the time to get everyone involved in the present moment and make them feel there are important (because they are) and not sideline talent.

Teams will not forgive leaders who put themselves first

3. Leaders who set an example

Teams will not forgive leaders who put themselves first. They will not pardon short-term, spreadsheet leadership. The situation is complicated for everyone so the first step should perhaps be to set an example. The impression a manager makes during this crisis will affect how teams view their leaders in the future.

4. Empowering leadership

The whole team probably understands the situation but it is best to evolve from controlling leadership to empowering leadership based on giving the entire team responsibility.

5. Transparent leadership

It is better to stop exaggerating and start being transparent – particularly about the future. The situation is changing and it is difficult to predict what will happen. Teams will probably forgive managers who make mistakes about future forecasts, but will not forgive those who are not up front out of fear of being wrong.

Leadership types
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6. Creative leadership

There is more to life than day-to-day routine. Now is a good time to encourage creativity, ask for things, encourage people and welcome suggestions from everyone about how to deal with the situation, how to approach new goods and services, and imagine what the future will be like.

Now is the time to remember and demonstrate that people are important and that you believe they are the driving force of the company

7. Human leadership

Leaders are people. They make mistakes. They have fears and doubts. They might feel vulnerable and share these doubts whilst in a position of responsibility and be determined to create a future.

8. Leadership based on people

Now is the time to remember and demonstrate that people are important, that you believe they are the driving force of the company and that those who take decisions with teams are responsible for taking them with the greatest responsibility, human touch and transparency.

The survey conducted by Esade and RocaSalvatella during the toughest months of the pandemic so far suggests a need to think about the skills necessary so that managers can take decisions about the digital transformation that the circumstances call for. Such reflection must combine an academic approach (based on empirical studies, models, case studies, etc) and a business approach (based on experience, trial and error, and achieving results).

The outcome expressed by the vast majority of the managers surveyed is that the leaders of today and tomorrow must be flexible and willing to assume their responsibilities transparently.

The biggest challenge, however, concerns bridging the gap between the perception of these managers and the real world: the managers think they are ready for the necessary change but they mention the need to develop their skills and capabilities in order to deal with it.

The challenge is enormous but the first step has already been taken: to be aware of the starting point and accept the challenge of transforming leadership.

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