How the COVID-19 crisis makes us stronger –
In my last blog post “COVID-19 and the consequences – A trip to Germany in 2023” I outlined a possible scenario how COVID-19 could transform the world we live in. Crises are catalysts that reinforce trends and sweep away old habits. Even though nobody can realistically predict what our life will look like in spring 2023, we can already learn some lessons from COVID-19 today. I regard four paradigms as the core of a master code that can help us to emerge stronger from the current crisis: by thinking, structuring, leading and communicating in a new way.
Corona has shown us how quickly things can change. Linear thinking alone is no longer sufficient. Just because something has happened this way or that in the past, we cannot assume that it will do the same in our globally connected future. In January 2019 COVID-19 still seemed far away for most people in Europe, but the virus has captured us with exponential power. More radical, more comprehensive and faster than we had ever imagined.
We have to think experimentally, as the American entrepreneur Peter Diamandis already put it in 2008 with regard to the tech world. We must identify disruptive factors early on and think in terms of patterns of change. We should allocate our resources not where we needed them in the past, but where we will need them in the future. Exponential thinking requires not only new approaches but also new types of organisation, as well as new ways of leadership and communication.
Permanent change requires robust yet agile corporate and social structures. Less bureaucracy, instead a structure based on a flexible and robust network with flat hierarchies. Organisations following this model remain nimble and creative, focus on the outside world instead of just dealing with itself. A common purpose, a higher goal is also crucial – especially when pace or parameters change. If we are confident that it is essential to do something, it motivates us. A shared guiding principle creates identity, strengthens the feeling of belonging to the same tribe, to the same community. It also encourages the desire to give something back. Both are basic human demands. Examples are all the football fans, who travel thousands of kilometres to support “their” team in the stadium.
External partnerships – beyond one’s core competencies – can also help to identify disruption patterns and to be successful. According to the weekly magazine “Die Zeit”, the Chinese online giant Alibaba, for example, invests more than 40 % of its sales in external investment projects and start-ups.
The ability to cope with uncertainty reflects the resilience of a person, but also a society or a company. An open leadership culture based on trust and dialogue, which conveys confidence in the face of uncertainty is fundamental to provide this. Especially in the first phase of the lockdown, we have experienced how important it is for leadership to convey confidence. Authentic leadership requires a clear overview of the situation. As leaders, we must develop a strategic vision that strives for the best case and thinks, along with the worst case. We must lead with the long view, decide, check, correct if necessary and, above all, communicate. We have to empower the people in our organisation or our society. We must motivate them to work with us in an agile and creative way to achieve the goals we have set. Communication is the most essential.
Leadership is first and foremost communication. It is to listen, explain, release energies, reduce reservations, promote creativity. During the lockdown, I communicated more than twice as much with my teams and with our partners than before. I listened their concerns, analysed situations and explained the necessity of decisions. We can’t, and we never have to please everyone. But we can and must explain to everyone why we do what we do. Not just once. Over and over and over again. Especially in times of crisis, in confusing situations, when “driving on sight” makes frequent course adjustments necessary.
Leaving people alone with their fears and worries, not listening to them, not taking their feelings and concerns seriously, not closing information gaps – all this fuels uncertainty, erodes credibility and promotes filter bubbles. COVID-19 is showing us that too.