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New normal demands agile leadership

The slow moving crisis of the Covid19 pandemic has brought with it a crisis of leadership and adapting to the post-lockdown new normal will demand a new more agile style of leadership. This message emerged from a panel discussion of the subject of leadership in a pandemic, hosted by Resilience First.

The leaders that took organisations into the crisis might not be the right ones to lead organisation out of it, as success in the new world will require a greater ability to adapt to changed circumstances. It will also demand a style of leadership that is prepared to be self-critical and empathetic to employees and their families, the panel suggested.

Simon Collins, Chairman of Resilience First, said: “Leadership is tough in any event and leaders are required to provide clarity and assurance to the people they lead. Providing this right now, when there is anything but certainty, does put the challenges of leadership into sharp perspective.”

“There is a big difference between leadership and management. There is no one size that fits all during a pandemic. There is no normality to return to, leaders should be aiming for a better new normal rather than just returning to what was there before.”

Risk Management Prof Denis Fischbacher-Smith said: “The people who lead us into this crisis might not be the right ones to lead us out of the same crisis. As organisations grow they can be faced with a series of growth crises, needing different leaders. Once moved out of the steady state environment existing leaders often cannot cope.”

“Leaders need to be pushed practically and intellectually so that they can handle uncertainty when it comes along. The first thing a good leader will do is recognize that they don’t have all the answers and that they must have a group around them they trust to tell them when they are wrong.”

Seth Schultz, Global Executive Director Resilience Shift, said: “What is fascinating about Covid19 is that it is a slow onset crisis. It is the same crisis but hitting at different times in different places and the response has been according to what kind of readiness those different locations were in.”

“When a crisis hits, you handle it according to your underlying state of readiness and it will have a different impact according to how ready you are. You need to have a plan in place, but you also need to be able to respond quickly in an agile way.”

Basil Scarsella, CEO UK Power Networks, said: “Having received a letter from the PM asking everyone to stay at home, I immediately had to write to all of our employees saying please come into work, because we are an essential service and we need to keep going. And they did.”

“The main driver that stood us in good stead when the pandemic hit was our long-standing corporate mission. We aim to be an employer of choice; we aim to be a trusted corporate citizen; and we aim to operate in a sustainable way. Don’t take goodwill from your employees and their families for granted. Employees are our most important asset.”

John Deverell CBE, CEO The Prepared Mind, said: “Fortune favours the prepared mind. Take risk registers and exercises more seriously. The thinking behind a contingency plan costs nothing but time. The old adage, just enough, just in time is no longer valid either in terms of planning or thinking ahead.”

“Look at what you as a leader can do to take the pressure off others, such as the government and communities. Take a wider view on the purpose of your entity. Such as companies who have switched their entire operations over to making PPE.”

About Resilience First

A not-for-profit business body, it was launched in June 2018, to work for resilience better delivered by collaborative working through communities. Simon Collins is the Chairman of Resilience First. Until 2017 he was the UK Chairman and Senior Partner of KPMG and a member of the KPMG Global Board and Executive Committee. He qualified as a chartered accountant before moving into banking at SG Warburg & Co, then NatWest Markets where he became a Managing Director and Head of the Global Debt Structuring and Private Placement Group. He is a Trustee of Pancreatic Cancer UK and chairs the RAF100 Appeal.

About the panel

Prof Denis Fischbacher-Smith is Professor of Risk Management at the University of Glasgow. He was Professor of Management at the Universities of Liverpool, Sheffield, Durham and John Moores. He has also been a visiting professor at the Universities of Kobe (Japan), San Diego State (USA) and Innsbruck (Austria).

Seth Schultz is Global Executive Director, Resilience Shift. Seth has worked with the Louis Berger Group, the US Green Building Council, the Clinton Foundation, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, the Global Covenant of Mayors, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Basil Scarsella is Chief Executive Officer and Director of UK Power Networks. Basil was the CEO of Northern Gas Networks from 2005, distributing gas to 2.5 million homes in the north east of England. From 1998, Basil was the CEO of ETSA Utilities, a privatised electricity distribution business in Australia. Before joining ETSA Corporation in 1994 he was Group Planning and Finance Manager at the South Australia Gas Company.

Former Brigadier John Deverell CBE held the post of Director Defence Diplomacy in Whitehall and acted as senior military adviser to Chief Constables across southern England. On leaving government service, John first joined the Executive Leadership Team of Invensys plc, with responsibility for crisis management. Since then he has led his own company in promoting and providing the ‘Prepared Mind’ approach to dealing with potential crises for governments and commercial organisations. He continues to work for the MOD, FCO, DFID and the Home Office on a project basis; and is a member of the Resilience First Advisory Board.


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