Leadership in Torturous Times-Bikram Singh

As the Coronavirus pandemic takes a heavy toll on human lives and pushes the economies to the brink, we need agile, creative and versatile leaders with indomitable spirit and unwavering commitment. Leaders, who can adapt, innovate and transform their organisations to weather the storm and ensure they retain their efficacy to bounce back, when the situation improves. Families too are organisations, where parents are the leaders.  
Despite the inconceivably high levels of uncertainty and complexity, India’s response has been timely and resolute. The policy makers have been successful in mobilising and optimising national resources and instituting strong measures to arrest the spread of the virus. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has led from the front displaying vision, decisiveness, confidence and empathy. Given his extraordinary interpersonal prowess, he has galvanised public support in pursuit of various initiatives. The World Health Organisation (WHO), while cautioning us to cater for a likely spike, has applauded our hitherto response.

The hard decisions of the policy makers will continue to be debated in the media and various forums.  Only those who have operated in a highly stressful strategic arena can understand the challenges of decision-making in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment. In the initial stages, when the overall picture is hazy and time is a constraint, leaders do not have the luxury of examining in detail the second and third-order implications of their decisions. Leaders are mostly guided by their frames of reference and moral compass. When the virus was spreading at an exponential pace, the policy makers had no option but to accord higher priority to public safety than the economy and enforce a lockdown. In crisis situations, leaders must be decisive and should exploit collective wisdom and intelligence by engaging experts from relevant fields while making choices.  

Communications are critical for the effective management of a health crisis of such magnitude. Leaders of all organisations and communities, therefore, must devise dedicated communication networks for information-sharing and building support systems to deal with various contingencies collectively and with the involvement of various stakeholders.

In a climate of uncertainty and widespread fear, leaders should avoid, to the extent possible, one-way, linear communications, which are devoid of personal touch and appear more authoritative. Interactive communications laced with empathy, on the other hand, help leaders to understand the needs, emotions and the stress levels of the people. During lockdown, ‘electronic’ social interactions, can help alleviate stress and restore confidence. In this regard, leaders need to take a cue from the Prime Minister, who has frequently addressed the nation and interacted with cross-section of the population to convey a message of concern and empathy. His interaction with the doctors, nurses and lab technicians via the videoconference was a shot in the arm for their morale. During crisis situations, leaders should consciously starve their ego and proactively reach out to their people with a caring stance.  

The fight against COVID-19 can only succeed if we stand united and every citizen understands the noble intent of the government behind the tough decisions, which have caused hardships. This is where the leaders have a vital role to play. They have the responsibility not just to sensitise people but also inspire them in embracing austerity for the greater common good. Moreover, leaders must also endeavor to reach out to the communities residing in the neighborhood of their organisations and address their basic needs in concert with the state governments and the NGOs. Business enterprises can realign the utilisation of the CSR funds for this purpose. At the family level, parent leaders, who can afford to sacrifice some of their comforts for the more vulnerable, should not hesitate to do so. Families are the basic building blocks of any society and nation. Their combined involvement is critical for shortening the anticipated long-haul in eradicating the virus.  

Working from home provides the parents an opportunity to spend more time with their children. It should be imaginatively utilised to strengthen family bonding and enhance mutual trust. Parents should focus on developing the basic value-based leadership qualities in their children.  Creative hobbies are ideal for nurturing tomorrow’s versatile leaders. A well regulated and mutually adjustable routine within the family contributes to positivity and helps ward off monotony and stress.

A clear understanding of the bigger picture helps leaders to remain relevant while pursuing the national agenda in their respective organisations, communities and families. They should proactively seek information from credible sources and should be able to sift through it for pragmatic decision-making. With experience, most leaders develop the proverbial eagle’s eye, which helps them to zoom-in and zoom-out for macro-level and micro-level situational awareness in a complex environment. Leaders endowed with this acumen, while negotiating turbulence, are also able to visualise opportunities at the end of the tunnel.    

Invincible leaders are nurtured during tough times. History is replete with examples where, in times of crisis, leaders have distinguished themselves with a ‘never-say-die’ attitude. This crisis too will throw up names of people, who despite the heavy headwinds, remained wedded to the national goals and demonstrated exceptional leadership competencies.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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