Lead in turbulent times. The value of experience. First part – Statement of situation

In these turbulent times that we are facing, it is important to be sure that we are in the hands of people with proven leadership. At political, strategic, business, social level, etc. And these do not necessarily have to be whom we have brought organizations here. I’m not saying we don’t have to be. I indicate that we don’t necessarily have to be.

Until COVID.19, the situation in Spain, with its inequalities, typical of any market economy, was more or less stable, and even positive, with economic growth of 2 to 3%, a continued decline in unemployment and an increase in the number of contributors to Social Security. The economy worked more or less, within the conventional paradigms, with all those premises that we had been told, some of which were:

  • Avoid expansionary policies that increase inflation.

  • Lower prices to sell more.

  • Do not increase the minimum salary in order to not to damage employment.

  • Lower social contributions to increase employment.

  • Globalization benefited us all.

And more, with which we may or may not agree, but which were installed in our daily economic reality. Until COVID has come to change everything and specially to put everything into question.

After COVID, a new time arises, full of uncertainties and questions, of new moods in people, changing and complicated, which it is necessary to know how to manage. A status in which we must be right in our decisions. But in this new situation, getting it right is only one of the innumerable options that we have in front of us. We see it constantly:

  1. How many macroeconomic predictions are being made every day, which are corrected the next day?

  2. How many news about health, economy, education are given daily that are denied, reaffirmed or modified the next day?

  3. How many different news do we see and hear about what awaits us from now on, which depending on who says it, are radically different from each other?

  4. Never before it has been so true that before believing anything, one must make sure that the source that has issued a diagnosis, forecast, etc., repeats it a second time, and even a third time to validate that prediction. And even so….

Recession and uncertainty are the perfect storm of runaway job destruction, business and company closures, and scarce public resources. The conventional recipes of economics don’t work. And therefore, repeating what has been done does not make sense, nor will it be effective.

But the fact is that we cannot fail. Not only do they pay us for it, but it is our moral duty, as leaders of human groups and business organizations, to get our decisions right. It’s that easy. And so complex.

At this time of disruptive context, it is important that leaders explore new ways of operating organizations. The change that is taking place in society also affects these organizations. The way people relate to each other, access to work, the culture (especially preventive on health) of organizations is changing. And for this it is important that leaders know how to implement models that combine flexibility with work-life balance, through three fundamental axes:

  1. People and management of cultural change.

  2. Processes, providing them with agility and flexibility.

  3. Technology (remote access to work, cloud computing, etc).

I remember an anecdote that happened to me a few many years ago, and that I always have in mind with pleasure, and that helps me to reaffirm myself in my mission as a leader when sometimes, like everyone else, my strength falters, or oneself enters in times of uncertainty. What is known as the leader’s loneliness.

I was in a meeting with workers’ representatives, in the middle of the 2008 crisis, practically after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. They asked me what direction the company was going to take in front of the sudden collapse that both we, our sector, and the economy in general, was experiencing. And I remember that a prominent member of that group of representatives told me: “You have to be right in what you decide. You cannot fail. What we are going to do in the coming years depends on it. And that we get to see those years depends on that success. I can see what’s in front of that wall. We all see it. But seeing what’s behind it is what you’re supposed to be prepared for, and we’re not. You have to know how to see what is behind the wall”.

It may sound strong and raw, but it reflects a blunt reality in a nutshell. Our employees expect us to see behind the wall, because they can’t. With greater difficulty, it happens that in these times the wall is very thick and very little permeable.

As leaders, we must be able to motivate and reward what we have done in the past. But above all, we have to be able to predict the future, to read it, to see behind the wall in scenarios of increasing complexity, uncertainty and change. And for this reason, a leader does not have to be the one who has done the best in the past or at the present moment on a personal or collective level, but the one who is best prepared to face the future. This is very important.

There are many classes and definitions of leadership. As many as people who define this concept. It is also not the objective of this article to go into these definitions. But it is to say that different times demand different leaderships. Therefore, someone who performs well in their current role may not be the right person to achieve the short-to-medium goals for the company.

With the above, I mean that good past personal performance does not guarantee adaptation to the future to come. And it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve promoted people based on past good performance who aren’t perform in their new responsibilities. And with it:

  1. We have not achieved the goal of having a solid leader for the times ahead due to lack of adequate leadership skills.

  2. And we have “burned” a person who did her job in a remarkable way (due to that we have raised him / her to new responsibilities).

In the end, the bet has turned out doubly wrong, it is doubly unsuccessful.

When making a decision about the leader of the future in these times, we must take into account three important nuances:

  1. The chosen candidate must have the competency skills to be an efficient leader suited to current and future times.

  2. In the event that we want to assess past performance (no one, at least me, says not to do it), these should not be based solely on the individual evaluation of a supervisor. A 360º evaluation must be made, and even externally, counting on a good professional in the field, if we do not have one in our company. We play a  too much on this issue.

  3. Decide if we are choosing, in the terms in which we are speaking, to predict the future or to reward the past. Or to go for a combination of both.

In the face of all these rants and uncertainties, I advocate few experiments. This is no time for testing. This is the time for experienced leaders, who have been in similar situations before, who know what it is to manage these difficult times, and who have shown and can teach a successful service sheet. It is what I argue in the next article in this series of two.

Next Chapter: Second part – Dismantling some stereotypes (Chapter 1)