Leadership in a Post COVID-19 Era
- By Dr SMA Ako-Nai
Leadership matters in the success or failure of an organisation. It plays a major role in organisational performance and the achievement of strategic goals. Effective leadership is driven by an appropriate leadership style. Such styles refer to the traits and behaviours exhibited within environmental contexts and contingencies that enable an individual to assume the leading role and act effectively within the prevailing and arising situation.
In today’s erratic, dynamic and competitive business environment, leadership has become more prominent than ever in the success of an organisation. Continuous advancements in technology, heightened government regulations and evolving business models, present significant challenges to organisational leadership. The current pandemic has highlighted the need for appropriate leadership in the post COVID-19 era.
What type of leadership would be required in the post COVID-19 era? For those organisations that survive, a recovery strategy will be the priority. Leaders with grit will be needed not only to drive and implement the recovery strategy but also to navigate the fragile post COVID-19 economic environment. None of the existing leadership styles would be a perfect match. It will require exceptional leadership with a repertoire of traits and extraordinary approach to leadership.
Amidst the diverse, numerous leadership styles and traits, Mujahid Hussain and Hamid Hassan’s work on The leadership styles dilemma in the business world offers sage advice. The fundamental assumption is that a leader should be ethical, have integrity, rely on considerable input from subordinates, and should enhance employee welfare. The study reviews and classifies existing leadership styles within the literature into four categories: Transformational, Democratic, Authoritative, and Pacesetting. The names reflect the dominant trait in the category as well as lesser but related traits.
Transformational leaders create a high-energy environment with a strong sense of mission. Their leadership traits include charisma, continuous and intense interaction between the leader and subordinates, defined short-term goals, coaching (motivation, inspiration) and a high level of integrity (morals and ethics). As the dominant trait, this leadership is effective in organisational transformation and drives change to effect organisational growth. Transformational leadership is thus suited for a settled organisation that requires a new way of thinking and doing things.
Democratic leaders exhibit consultative traits, solicit buy-in to the vision (or mission), align skills and competences to roles (teams), enhance communication and aligns tasks to goals. This approach drives innovation and creativity, adaptation to change, and a task-oriented approach to the achievement of goals. Its weakness is time. In an environment where changes are quick and an immediate response is urgent, this leadership creates frustration within the organisation and weakens its competiveness.
Authoritative leaders’ dominant trait is control. They are strongly driven by a sense of vision and achievement. Their traits include coercion, a task-oriented structure, and transactional performance systems. This type of leader is thus suited to mission critical organisations, those that produce specialised products/services and environments where there is minimal innovation and creativity. Authoritative leaders created a motivated environment for employees in favour of independent work and performance rewards. However, the organisation may suffer from burnout employees, poor communication and stifled growth. It is therefore not suitable for organisations in a dynamically changing environment.
Pacesetting leaders are driven by innovation and out-of-the box creativity. They may include entrepreneurs with disruptive ideas, or products/services that are novel, and are driven by a strong sense of belief and authenticity. Such leaders are at the forefront of start-ups and spin-off entities within organisations. Their key differentiating trait is that, they become less motivated after the successful launch of the product/service/spin-off to market. They are therefore suitable in a research and development environment and spin-off entities but not fit for leadership in a going concern.
The Post COVID-19 Era
In the post COVID-19 environment, the key challenge will be how to restart operations after the lockdown. Whilst most organisations may have completed an impact analysis of the lockdown and formulated scenarios and recovery options, the initial opening and operational plans are critical. Most organisations will be unable to open at full capacity. Initial opening plans should include adequate resources to support start-up operations, favourable arrangements with creditors and debtors, collaborative support from employees, legal advice, etc. These initial plans must then extend into a long-term recovery strategy that must be comprehensive and stringent. The key components would include assessment of key products/services, target markets/customer segments and financial position. The supporting components will include a review of the organisational structure, a skills audit and defining new skills and competences, infrastructure assessment and acquisition of new technologies, and a renewed internal business environment and culture. It will not be business as usual; hence, a paradigm and cultural shift is imperative. The journey of recovery will be a mission critical one and will require a leadership style that aligns with and is successfully able to navigate the turbulent terrain.
The Post COVID-19 Leader
A tough and resolute leader is required to provide strategic direction for the organisation and set a solid foundation for recovery. Such a leader should be able to:
• lead by example and participate actively in the process
• identify sources of finance, lead negotiations and make strategic deals
• identify and solicit new collaborative relationships
• identify and engage best fit skills and competences for the task at hand
• consider innovative ideas that are quick to implement
• instill confidence and a can-do attitude in employees
• motivate and create high energy within the workplace
• establish clear and unambiguous communication mechanisms
• set the pace and tone for implementation of prompt decisions
Once the organisation is on the path to recovery, the leadership should endeavour to institutionalise the newly evolved business culture; the “new normal” in business leadership in the post COVID-19 era. Renewed reward systems that reward and celebrate innovation and significant achievements should be implemented. The new normal should bring value to all stakeholders of the revived organisation.
How do you classify such a leadership style? Maybe just EXCEPTIONAL LEADERSHIP!
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Dr SMA Ako-Nai is a lecturer at the School of Management, Information Technology and Governance on UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus.