Seven key lessons in leadership during COVID-19: Anand Chakravarthy
Guest Column: COVID-19 has taught us to think more expansively and imaginatively about the future, writes Anand Chakravarthy, Managing Director, India at Essence
Yes, lessons for myself first as I do not think anyone can claim to have lessons for others yet in these unique circumstances we find ourselves in. Maybe you can learn from this opinion piece or maybe not, because each leader is faced with their own unique circumstances.
If there is one thing that COVID-19 has taught all of us, it is that we need to think more expansively and imaginatively about the future. From governments to corporations and communities, most have struggled and had to learn on the fly in the absence of any kind of playbook. It was no different for me either, having been equally challenged, stumped and frustrated at times during the last eight weeks.
The first week was a period of reaction and uncertainty. The one thing that really helped was the opportunity to hear from other leaders across sectors through webinars, Google Hangouts and articles. At a time where no one person has all the answers, and justifiably so, picking up pointers from multiple sources was really useful.
My focus continues to be on three key stakeholders - my team, my clients and myself, including my family. This is no different from my focus areas during normal times, but certainly under very different circumstances. I was able to give myself seven pointers that have definitely helped me in one way or another to make decisions during the last eight weeks. I share this with the absolute knowledge that I could be wrong and maybe these worked only for me, but these are lessons for myself nevertheless.
- No point in fretting about the now. Rather, focus on the next.
While current business and people challenges are important, always keep sight of what is coming around the corner. There are new emerging opportunities and I need to ensure that my teams and organisation are ready to make the most of these circumstances.
- Being pessimistic never helped a soul, so why bother?
Being a business leader, I am often more worried about what could go wrong than what might go right. But these past few weeks have converted me into a moderate optimist at least. I guess when the chips are down, there is only one way to go, which is up, and that is the best way to look at our current situation. Optimism is also infectious and I would like to believe my newfound optimism has helped my team as well.
- People before profit, as the latter will come back if I take care of the former
This is certainly a tough one and not easy for every business or leader to stay true to. COVID-19 has disrupted some businesses but I am fortunate to be part of an organisation where our people’s interest is always foremost during all decision-making, and this is certainly going to help build a stronger company and a more engaged workforce.
- Now is the time to try something new - what do I have to lose?
Be it a new client solution or an employee training programme, this is the time to push for new and better ways of doing things. Clients appreciate agility and proactiveness at a time when they are also struggling with the impact of COVID-19. Now is the time to look for solutions that have not been tried before as the current circumstances could be just right for something new.
- Mistakes will be made given the ambiguity of this situation, but these are also lessons to be learned.
I remind myself not to beat myself up if I make a mistake - be it in communication, handling a stressful situation or making an assumption for my business. No one is prepared for these times and we are all human. However, I make sure to get feedback more often so I am aware of what I can do better.
- While thinking ahead, plan for the short term too because this is a dynamic situation and plans will need to change.
All plans need to be flexible and one should expect plans to change. I need to ensure my team and I are mentally ready to accept a certain amount of ambiguity and a moving target in many areas. There is no definitive end to the crisis, so there is not going to be an end to uncertainty soon.
- Be sensitive - this is not just a financial crisis, but a health and human crisis.
This is perhaps the most important of all lessons. There is so much more going on other than the slowing down of the economy. Everyone in my team is going through this time based on their own unique circumstances and they are all seeking a way to manage things better. While business pressures will always persist, it is important to keep reminding myself that everyone in my team, like me, is dealing with so much more.
This too shall end, and we will prevail and thrive. These lessons I learned will certainly endure in the years ahead for me.
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