4. June 2020

Leading after COVID-19

By Riccardo Giacometti

Each era is characterized by different forms of leadership. Given the turbulence and changes in our industry in recent weeks (and in the future), culture, values, inspiration, and continuity have become the most important pillars of leadership. Therefore, leadership should not be seen as static, but as moving, and current changes should be seen as transitions to new forms of leadership.

We cannot know what the future will look like after the coronavirus—but this is exactly what gives us room for maneuver. Much more exciting, therefore, is the question: isn’t something completely new emerging? Because after only a few weeks of crisis, it has become clear that when people have finished organizing the most necessary things, they increasingly ask themselves fundamental questions. The spirit of the new emerges from the responses. Some of this was already evident during the crisis. For example, it was clear that e-commerce and especially the delivery of food would receive a permanent boost. Others will have more complex, more profound consequences. In any case, new skills will be needed to be ready for a new start after the coronavirus.

The coronavirus poses unexpected challenges for many executives. While some are able to cope with the new circumstances, others are simply overwhelmed. In the midst of the crisis, it becomes clear what leadership is all about.

For me, leadership means maintaining performance, motivation, and achievement. How does that work? It involves commitment, empowerment and support, performance review, coaching, communication, and teaming up, as well as being a role model (ethical leadership). Leadership according to the coronavirus means managing all this at a distance. Leadership has a lot to do with intuition. We lead as we feel and understand our environment. We act in our environment and react to our environment. What do we do when this environment is much quieter than usual and sends out fewer signals that can be used to correct course? This will be difficult for me, as I have always enjoyed round tables or group discussions, and I am looking forward to having them again.

Especially in coaching, everything is based on trust, on an intensive exchange, and ultimately on being in close proximity to people. Without direct contact, coaching is more difficult. Empathy becomes a critical success factor in leadership. Maybe you also have to help your employees to build up routines, to maintain a fixed work rhythm. This is especially important with short-term work and the associated free time. Let’s not forget: the employees did not choose short-term work to this extent either and did not imagine forced leisure time like this. 

As a manager, you have to question yourself now: 

  • Do I motivate my employees and colleagues both factually and emotionally?
  • Do I give enough support?
  • Do I communicate enough and create enough visibility for the whole team?
  • Do I give enough support for self-help? Do I care about my employees and how they can become better?
  • Am I a role model for others? If I am, do I show it clearly enough?
  • Do I request milestones and progress? Do I check solutions and results?

During the crisis, it became very clear whether the corporate values presented in impressive-sounding image advertisements and on employer branding websites are actually true. The time of lone fighters and self-made men is over. A company is only doing well if all the stakeholders are doing well — partners, customers, employees, competitors.

By the way, the same is particularly evident on an individual level, because times of crisis bring us as leaders closer to our very own individual character traits. When push comes to shove, humanity, the ability to cooperate and trust become obvious. After the coronavirus, we will therefore not only remember how we mastered the crisis, but also with whom. That also means with whom we want to shape our future.

I wish everyone much success in these challenging times. Some will change their career completely and start a new one in a new industry or on an unexpected journey. We all have to see it as a chance. Yes, it is hard, but as Jack Ma said in one of my favorite quotes: “Never give up. Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine.”

Stay positive and you’ll get through this crisis. If I can help, let me know. I’m happy to do all that’s in my power.