Prof. Roger Delves is an Associate Dean and Professor of Practice at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School. In this interview he speaks on the forthcoming TEXEM, UK’s executive development programme, scheduled to take place virtually next month, where he will share practical insights on strategic leadership for success in an age of disruption. Oluchi Chibuzor brings the excerpts:
How can a leader thrive in these times of disruption?
These are times of enormous change, and much of the change is not temporary but permanent. When the pandemic is overcome, the new normal which emerges will be significantly different to the world we left behind when we went into lockdown. Leaders must learn to thrive on change and to lead through change – even if that change is transformational. Leaders need to develop trust among stakeholders, have a strategic outlook and learn to identify opportunities even among challenges.
How could a leader develop unique resources and capabilities for accelerated growth?
Accelerated growth occurs when organisations see an opportunity which they are uniquely well-equipped to respond to or take advantage. Amazon is an example. We can’t shop in stores, because of lockdown during the COVID19 first wave. So Amazon grows exponentially, as do associated partners such as logistics providers. Leaders in Amazon and Amazon partners have to be agile and be able to create teams which can respond swiftly to changing circumstances. However, the equivalent of Amazon in Nigeria has not done so well. Why? Could it be challenges with; efficiency and effectiveness, resource optimisation, structure, process and business model? Then, they need to be examined and rejigged. The leader should identify organisational weaknesses, classify them into those that could be changed and those that would be unfeasible to do so, prioritise those that are feasible and critical, then allocate resources smartly accordingly to them. Also, the leader has to be very well aware of individual capabilities within the team and has to create an engaged team with an achievement and creative culture. All this is easy to say, but very hard to do successfully, especially under the intense pressure of the demand to deliver results swiftly and dependably with the potential for costs to skyrocket.
How can a leader effectively motivate their team and positively influence their performance while working remotely?
Teams consist of individuals, each of whom may be inspired by different things. Sources of motivation could include the desire for; personal growth, to be promoted, be recognised as a talent, or be rewarded for performance. Great leaders know that each individual in a team needs to be motivated if they are to be engaged in the team’s pursuit of goals and targets. The fact that they work remotely is also critical, given the heightened uncertainty due to; loss of jobs, increased inflation as is the case in Nigeria and the bleak economic outlook globally. Also, the interruptions to family life when working from home and the potential mental health implications of remote work underscore the importance of support for those working from home. Again, when an employee works remotely, morale might be lower because they lose the opportunity to learn from others. Thus, at this time more than ever before, team members need to be understood and treated as an individual. The leader should also emphasise the purpose of the organisation, try to highlight how their work makes a positive difference to society and celebrate the progress made by each team-member irrespective of how little it is. Also, organisations could invest in value-adding executive development programmes organised by TEXEM, which would ultimately stimulate performance. These suggestions also apply in a live environment or a hybrid of the two.
How can one become a more effective and resilient leader at a period of turbulence?
Being effective and resilient are two very different things. Times of turbulence and uncertainty will put extraordinary demands on the resilience of a leader, and the resilience tank is not bottomless. Leaders need to give themselves time to restore their resilience levels, or they won’t be able to lead the team as well as they need to. They also need to be forgiving of themselves: this is their first experience of leading in a global pandemic and they, like everyone else, will be learning as they go along. Mistakes are bound to happen. They need to be overtly resilient because emotions are contagious: if they are in despair, or anxious, or stressed, they will infect their team with these same emotions. If they are upbeat, confident, optimistic, then these emotions are equally transferable.
How can a leader boost morale and motivate while downsizing?
Downsizing is simply a strategic decision. It is either right or wrong. Once it is taken, the leader must assume that the strategic decision is the right one and should approach downsizing as a right and necessary step to secure the future of the organisation. Presented to the team in this way – as a difficult necessity – allows those who are not released in the downsizing to look forward with more confidence, which helps them to get over the sadness of losing colleagues. Leaders must absolutely not question the strategy or the decisions of the management team, or the confidence of the team in the strategy will be lost, and the resentment felt at the downsizing will increase hugely to overshadow any other emotions.
Why should delegates attend this programme?
Given TEXEM’s impressive pedigree of consistently delivering value-adding programmes and the world-renowned faculties such as General Nick Parker and Professor Michael Mol who would join me in delivering this programme, it is one that is timely and will help leaders and organisations to succeed. Thus, this programme on Strategic Leadership for Success in an age of disruption scheduled to take place virtually, from 2nd – 3rd December 2020 is relevant, critical and promises to add immense value to organisations and leaders. Also, through this programme, leaders would network and challenge assumptions. Notably, in times of social, economic and political turmoil, it is easy to get so engrossed in the daily struggle to survive that one forgets to take a breath, look around, take the temperature of the wider environment. Leaders can better focus on the bigger picture, identify opportunities and inspire actions for profitable growth when one pauses to reflect, and to examine, which are missed in the rush and worry of the pandemic day. Intelligent executive minds all pausing at the same time and exploring the same issues together are bound to come up with new thoughts, exciting ideas, refreshing, stimulating initiatives and enhance performance. Wouldn’t you want to be in the room when the process of impactful growth begins?