The best test of whether a leader is exceptional is how he or she handles a crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted business activities all over the world which has also put under the microscope the capabilities of business leaders.
This implies that leaders too cannot continue doing things the same way if they want to ride the storm and come out stronger.
This week on Springboard, Your Virtual University, a radio programme on Joy FM, the Regional CEO West Africa for UBA Bank, Mrs Abiola Bawuah, shared some tips on how leaders could emerge stronger in these unconventional and uncertain times.
She said this year had been a year of shock, with no country having the mastery over what was going on.
“It has been a year of uncertainty for the business world. It is a year that God has brought the whole world to ground zero and reset the button and that is why we shouldn’t miss the opportunity in Africa.”
“It’s an opportunity for everybody. Everybody’s business came to standstill so we are all starting again from a certain level so if there is any year that we can also say we have arrived and beaten our competitors in the developed world, this is the time,” she explained.
Leaders must be in front
Mrs Bawuah noted that due to the way things had changed significantly this year, leaders could no longer lead from the back but the front.
“Leaders must be the vessel that can carry a lot of people. In this 2020, we can no longer use the leadership that we are behind. The COVID situation has brought lots of uncertainty and fear which are two things that can derail us from our original strategic plan.”
“So this year leaders must move from the back and step in front. I have over 2000 employees and everyday they want to hear from you. A leader of today in this unconventional period must show vision and rally his or her people. Where you are going must be clear otherwise the people will get disengaged,” she noted.
She said the ability to communicate in such uncertain times was also very critical and leaders must therefore communicate more frequently and timely.
“I do that every week, I want to find out from my people how they are faring, what they are into and if there is anybody who needs days off in this period.
“I am constantly in touch with the peculiar needs and health concerns of my staff and their families in the nine countries I manage,” she stated.
The CEO also urged leaders to take responsibility in such difficult times.
“I would want to follow a General that knows how to use the weapons that I can call upon. They want to see how brave you are and be able to rely and lean on you.”
Ability to strategise
She also advised leaders not to be fixated on what they already knew in a period like this.
“Our strategies that we had before can no longer be fixed. Things have changed significantly and at this time, no knowledge is too small so we can no longer be fixated on what we already know.”
“A leader should be willing to listen in such uncertain times and learn from the staff. You should be flexible and ready to amend your strategy,” she noted.
Mrs Bawuah stated that in such periods, leaders should continue to see what they could achieve within the little time that they had.
“You should look at how you can add value to your customers. You have to keep engaging your staff and stakeholders. There are some industries that have been affected by the pandemic and you need to be sensitive to their plight at this uncertain time.
“You should be in direct connection with your team. We have a lot of staff at home and how do you know they are working? What we have done at UBA is that yes, you are working from home but we are always in teams and there is also a lot of training that we are doing,” she said.
She said the pandemic also presented opportunities for leaders to upgrade their skills and that of their staff.
She noted that business models would keep changing and skill sets must change to reflect working from home and the new normal.
“If you have a lot of staff that are currently not technology inclined. This is the time you need to change the culture. Things have changed and it is good for you as a leader to also develop that learning culture. You must learn yourself and bring them on board,” she stated.
Leading by example
She also pointed out that if there was a time for leaders to lead by example then that time was now.
“We should lead by example. You can no longer be telling your staff to be on the street when you are in the airconditioned office. They want to see you and see what you are doing,” she stated.
“See things on the positive side. Generate positive energy in the team and see opportunities. Great leadership can generate unprecedented growth in a year of uncertainty,” she added.