As resilient leaders amid COVID-19 and other societal challenges, we must sustain our people, organizations, and society—as well as our own ability to lead—so that we can endure the long road ahead and build trust among all stakeholders.
A longer road ahead
A few months ago, we imagined “thriving” as leading our organizations to better normal after the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet our responsibilities as leaders now are further compounded by concurrent challenges of racial injustices, climate change, and economic uncertainties. Getting to “Thrive” appears more arduous and lengthier than many of us imagined … or hoped for.
The first wave and recurrences of COVID-19 continue to plague many parts of the world. Seventy-six percent of companies and many geographies in our most recent analysis is still in the Respond and Recover phases of the crisis.1 In late July 2020, our biweekly Deloitte State of the Consumer Tracker told a tale of two worlds: increasing consumer anxiety in nine countries across five continents, including India, Chile, China, Australia, Spain, and the United States, but more positive sentiment in nine other countries (seven of which are in Europe).2 Varying epidemiology curves and local responses further complicate matters for multinationals, which can’t apply uniform playbooks and investment priorities across the globe. Even companies and geographies that have entered the Thrive phase realize that we are all in this long journey together, because our prospects are inextricably linked.
The future of each of our organizations, though, is not preordained. As resilient leaders, one of our most critical roles right now is to sustain: to sustain our people, many of whom are experiencing not only fatigue but more stresses than they ever have; to sustain our organizations in continuing to create value for all stakeholders, and to sustain society as it experiences multiple existential threats. But just as important, we must also sustain our own ability to lead so that we can continue to serve over the long journey ahead.
Pondering these four imperatives as Deloitte Global CEO, I wanted to share my thoughts with you as fellow leaders on this journey, as well as some questions we should all be asking ourselves.
Sustaining our people
Our people are undergoing unprecedented levels of stress and uncertainty: workers who have suffered deep personal losses from COVID-19 and/or racial injustices; parents stretching to navigate childcare and major uncertainties over schooling responsibilities while still meeting work commitments; even the loss of basic grandchild-grandparent physical connections. It requires both empathy and courage on our part to lead them forward.
Am I walking this road alongside our people, our clients, and our ecosystem partners, and mirroring their needs?
As leaders, we need to empathize with and acknowledge the myriad challenges our people are currently coping with—many of which have no end in sight. Psychologists describe “ambiguous loss” as losses that are inexplicable, outside one’s control, and have no definitive endpoint.3 Typically experienced when loved ones are missing or suffering from progressive chronic illness, the uncertainties our colleagues are enduring today surely also constitute ambiguous loss:4 The loss of our familiar way of being in the world is difficult to understand, beyond our control, and uncertain as to when we can return to some semblance of normal.
As leaders, we need to empathize with and acknowledge the myriad challenges our people are currently coping with—many of which have no end in sight.
As we discuss in our upcoming Bridge across uncertainty guide for leaders, there are three types of stress: good stress, tolerable stress, and toxic stress, the last of which is critical to relieve before people become overwhelmed.5 With both ambiguous loss and toxic stress, the better definition of an endpoint and a reduction in uncertainty are important ways we can support our teams. For example, Deloitte has hosted Zoom-based workshops where a cross-section of our people helped to inform return-to-the workplace programs—giving them a greater sense of control. Likewise, sponsoring projects that have a defined endpoint and outcome—where teams can declare that they are “done”—also helps to counter both ambiguous loss and toxic stress.
Am I engaging in—and modeling—courageous conversations to ensure rapid, impactful decisions?
One of the five qualities of resilient leaders we noted in the article we released at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic6 is speed over elegance—taking decisive action with courage based on imperfect information, knowing that speed is essential. “The need to make critical decisions under conditions of extreme uncertainty” is the core context for the emotional fortitude that is part of the inner work of the CEO.7
Courageous conversations are at the heart of such decisive, bold leadership actions, which are even more critical now to sustaining our people. Such conversations enable us to deliver truthful messages and real-time feedback amid the crisis, and require courage:
- To address difficult situations such as business closures, layoffs, and furloughs rather than ignoring them and hoping they go away
- To decide and implement a course of action, even when unpopular
- To speak the truth about the situation, why each decision was made, and acknowledge the implications
- To listen to the minds and hearts of our people—even if the message is something you might not be comfortable hearing. This can not only help us to formulate a more well-informed decision but is also essential to sustaining the organization.
Sustaining our organizations
Courage also means making short-term decisions with the long view in mind. Now more than ever, our organizations need to preserve and create value over the long term for all our stakeholders by supporting employment, our industries, the community, and the overall economy …
Author: Punit Renjen