Covid-19 has been a Change Accelerator, forcing Leaders — in business, education, politics — to make quick decisions, in unprecedented times that have no past benchmarks, while also being expected to solve problems in an ever-changing environment.

We live in a world where we don’t have any control over the Pandemic, which has infected many and impacted both lives and livelihoods. Where we also don’t have any control over basic human needs of Financial Security, Safety, Health, and Social Belonging. In a world of uncertainties, surely success cannot be defined by traditional growth yardsticks?

In these Black Swan times, success will necessarily need to also be measured by the extent to which leaders reduced and eased the impact of this crisis on people, by making attempts to find Human-centric approaches to solve problems.

A pandemic affects people in profoundly personal ways, and many have experienced a change of lens through which we view the world — our life, our work, and business during these challenging times.

Crisis has a way of also bringing out the extraordinary in Leaders, especially the Resilient ones who have attempted to bring a balance between Command and Compassion and understand the need to demonstrate both humility and humanity in these trying situations.

The Covid-19 crisis is a leadership development opportunity like never before. Leaders who emerge stronger will be the ones who are ready and open to learn from this crisis.

Compassion is not a soft skill, it’s a business skill

To begin with, leaders need to know that showing people — whether customers, suppliers or employees — that you care is not a waste of time and definitely not inappropriate in the business environment. Many of us have for long believed that compassion has no place in the business world, that it can create a culture of excuses, mediocrity and bias. Can it have a place where we need uncompromising high performance?

Crisis has a way of also bringing out the extraordinary in Leaders, especially the Resilient ones who have attempted to bring a balance between Command and Compassion and understand the need to demonstrate both humility and humanity in these trying situations.

The Covid-19 crisis is a leadership development opportunity like never before. Leaders who emerge stronger will be the ones who are ready and open to learning from this crisis.

Compassion is not a soft skill, it’s a business skill

To begin with, leaders need to know that showing people — whether customers, suppliers, or employees — that you care is not a waste of time and definitely not inappropriate in the business environment. Many of us have for long believed that compassion has no place in the business world, that it can create a culture of excuses, mediocrity and bias. Can it have a place where we need the uncompromising high performance?

Humanity, sympathy and understanding is great, but where does compassion end and accountability start? How can we allow compassion at the cost of performance? Who must we show compassion to? If we show compassion to some and not to others, how would that be seen? How can we ever afford compassion for all? The empathy dilemma ensues, and many err on the side of dogged accountability — preferring to go by the rule book on expectations, irrespective. Compassion by itself often does not work well in business. But when we think fairly and combine it with accountability, it does. We need to think smarter on how to operate from compassion without compromising on commitments and results. This pandemic is showing us how to do this — learn to become more compassionate people in business.

Besides, particularly in these trying times, being professional is not being cold, removed and driven only by facts and data. Acknowledging things are not normal is a great start and most leaders can in fact demonstrate empathy because the pandemic affects them too. Leadership is never easy, and the challenges today are multiplied by pandemic fatigue, lack of in-person face-to-face interactions and the pressures of responding to rapidly evolving customer needs that require agile responses.

Additionally, leaders in organisations today can no longer rely on traditional management playbooks that involved setting challenging goals, measuring KPIs and over-seeing work activities.

Success in 2020 involves new and humane interventions that recognise the fears and needs of employees. By shifting focus from performance and productivity alone, and adopting a more human-centric style, leaders can create future-ready organisations that are more empowered, engaged with greater loyalty from employees and opportunities to build innovation mindsets.

Here’s what leaders can do to build and manifest a human-centric leadership and build future-ready organisations:

  1. Build trust: This requires open, direct and honest communication that generates oxytocin — the trust hormone. Besides, letting employees know what is really going on with frequent and transparent communication, and trusting to beget trust can evoke greater employeeship, ownership and accountability to contribute across levels.
  2. Lead with inclusion: Human-centric leaders understand and invest in the uniqueness of people and work hard at building psychological safety to enable each individual to feel safe to contribute. This requires truly knowing team members as individuals and the ability to create a culture of safety and contribution for all.
  3. Lead with empowerment: Sharing power to empower, acknowledging talent across levels and enabling action for solutions closest to the problems builds agility and confidence and more leaders. Covid times are great opportunities to let people across the organisation shine.
  4. Communication and team interactions: All human beings have an inherent desire to belong and engage with the community. Human-centric leaders make the opportunity for this through formal and informal connects like team lunches, one-on-one check-ins besides one-to-many conversations, an open office where anyone can approach the leader, and let’s walk & talk outdoor meetings.
  5. ‘Humanocracy’ to replace bureaucracy: This is an opportune time to identify unnecessary bureaucracy and replace it with ‘Humanocracy’, like Gary Hamel calls it in his seminal book. When leaders face the prospect of operating with smaller teams and bigger decisions, multiple sign-offs and long-drawn processes can become onerous and time-consuming. Agility requires for decisions to be made based on best information available, while being open to change or improvise as more information comes along. Human-centric leaders are sensitive to these times and are working to build ‘Humanocracies’ within their organisations by questioning old ways of doing things.
  6. Leadership of human connection is key: The pandemic and several technological changes have accentuated the need to reskill the workforce. Some jobs, as a result, are likely to get executed differently, while others will get eliminated. In order to deal with the many emotional and operational challenges that lie ahead in Covid times, leaders will need to re-think how to keep their teams inspired to contribute.

Servant leadership is paving the way where human-centric leaders, who know how to care for the success of their businesses while also ensuring the well-being of employees, are leading the way more effectively.

The need for human connectedness and compassion to manage unprecedented human challenges continues to increase as leadership has begun taking a new form. This, while the pandemic continues to be a live classroom on leadership, and its impact is visible like never before.

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