South Africa and many other countries are on forced or voluntary lock down because of the coronavirus pandemic. Never in the history of the world have we faced such a context. We have faced similar enemies that captured the attention of the world. However, this pandemic and the interconnectedness of our planet has created an unprecedented context of negative and positive proportions. Negative in that negative news travels faster than ever before and hence it’s impact is more severe than any other. Positive in that our very interconnectedness via social media assists in overcoming, fighting the enemy. I couldn’t tell whether the negative or positive weighs heavier or whether they simply cancel one another out. Who knows.
While we have been inundated with many articles, videos and views of the COVID-19 positive and negative impact, as a leadership advisor, author and entrepreneur I continue to grapple with what exactly this pandemic is trying to teach us, or what are we supposed to learn from it? No doubt there are individual and personal lessons to be learned. But collectively, what are we as a society, leaders to learn?
For me there are at least these two levels – the so called “softer” people / values side and the practical “way of doing business” side, especially in my industry.
To start off with. I hope we will mature in our ability to lead the letter and the spirit of a law. I have seen how in our country and in my own community citizens report those that don’t abide by the letter of the lock down laws. And this is good as we need to do what we can to flatten the curve and gain some control over the pandemic.
I live in a Reserve next to Kruger National Park where it is mostly very warm and we have more bush than houses and more animals than people around. Our community has been vigilant in reporting those that break the rules and I have found myself feeling proud.
However, something happened to me when a mother who seemed to walk around the block with her toddler in a pram was clinically reported by someone. My first thought was: How can this mother be so irresponsible. But then I thought about this a bit deeper, under the letter and the spirit of the law.
I thought that it is right to report her on the one hand. Yet, she is not endangering any lives. She will not be in contact with anyone on this planet and logic dictates she isn’t in fact being irresponsible. She is struggling to keep a little toddler entertained inside a house and a walk around the block, in warm weather with few homes around will do more good than harm.
Then again, to allow for exceptions when an entire country is on lock down isn’t wise because soon enough everyone will want to be part of an exception. What about the seven people in one tin shack? What does the spirit of the law dictate there? So, one could argue that letter of the law still weighs more in our current context than what spirit of the law does.
I believe we will as a society and leaders have to shift over the next few weeks towards developing the maturity to apply the spirit of the law more often and effectively, more voluntarily than forced. The spirit of the law almost always errs on the side of compassion. And I have already seen signs of compassion emerging in our society as leaders show emotion while caring for people more than things.
Companies and leaders are forced to live their “softer” values, to show their true colors. We are in many cases forced to prioritize lives above economy and money, profit – “we know how to bring an economy back to life but not how to bring a human being back to life” – a quote I saw somewhere. But the true test and temptation to return to a focus on wealth generation is already emerging through statements like: “The solution shouldn’t be worse than the problem”. I think this was President Trump building his case for opening the US economy sooner rather than later. It sounds like a logical statement because it is. As leaders how do we prioritize the duality of preventing people from dying from the virus while protecting economies and therefore peoples livelihoods, which if we don’t creates its own set of problems, perhaps more damaging than coronavirus?
I ask: What leader is prepared for such decisions? What leader has the ability to process such never ending and unprecedented dichotomies with unpredictable consequences? Right now President Cyril Ramaphosa may be the hero for acting decisively against the spread of the virus. But within weeks he may be the villain for destroying countless businesses and jobs because he didn’t reverse his decision in time to save our economy from irreparable damage. Or, he didn’t include broader input that suggests South Africa or Africa’s solution is more complex and should be more comprehensive than mere social distancing. It may not work at all for our densely populated areas.
Folks, every day will be new and unpredictable. Every day will be unsure and will require us balancing the letter and spirit of laws, all the way down to the policeman and soldier on the ground. Every day will require extraordinary emotional and spiritual maturity of forgiveness – realizing that most leaders are trying their best, but in the heat of the battle they will make expensive mistakes that include loss of lives and billions to the purse; compassion – feeling for the mother that needs to get out there with her child, but feeling it more deeply for the seven fellow citizens cramped up in a one room tin shack.
We may have to get to that point where we allow that mother to take her child for a walk – as is allowed in the U.K. – because the spirit of the lock down law is to stop the spread of coronavirus and she isn’t endangering anyone. And we may have to innovate and expand on our social distancing strategy to pioneer a more effective approach that works for our seven citizens inside their tin shack. We will have to find the balance between stopping the loss of lives through coronavirus while preventing ruined economies and lives. We will have to put our stakes in the ground for what we value most – people or money? And if both, in the right order and driven by the right motives – money because people need it to do good and stop pretending it’s people when the real reason is so that they can make a few insanely rich?
So I also ask: What do we truly value most? What do I truly value most?
Then there is the practical way of doing mainstream business. This has once and for all shifted into the digital domain. The hesitance of leaders to fully embrace existing technology over the past few years have been pushed to absolute acceptance of it. Zoom is just one example. For the past year or more I have been demonstrating our groundbreaking leadership App to leaders on Zoom all over the world. In many cases doing it in this manner was the exception, especially locally in SA. Now it is the norm even for leaders that preferred a face to face.
Digital platforms will now become the norm, because when the calamities strike, business must go on.
In my industry of leadership development we need clever ways to reach more leaders, more effectively, more consistently, more cost efficiently, before, during and after pandemics. We need to implement digital platforms to ensure the existence of leadership fit leaders like never before. In other words how does one ensure continued engagement and application of principles taught in-between, during and after programs or coaching interventions? The leadership development industry must start succeeding at multiplying authentic and purposeful leaders; individuals that raise their Best Selves to the conscious level daily.
If we don’t leverage technology to achieve more successful leadership development we will continue to falter as a society when more serious pandemics and calamities confront us at a more rapid rate in the future.
The 2020 decade has to be the decade of Authentic and Purposeful Leadership. We have no alternative. We have to expedite the emergence of quality leaders to turn the tide on weak, toxic and incompetent leadership.
I end with these questions: Are or has your investment in leadership development paid off? Are your leaders truly leadership fit? Are you leadership fit? Are you thinking differently about leadership itself and leadership development, of others and yourself?
Unprecedented times call for unprecedented leadership. My hope for you is that while you face this challenging time you also challenge yourself, your thinking, your leadership, your values, your way forward.
An invitation to those that lead many:
We can help you create leadership fitness in your organisation, through the effective use of technology like Zoom and our dynamic ThinkLead App. And we can reach more of your leaders, more regularly, more effectively and more cost efficiently than ever before. Let’s chat…on Zoom.