When a business decides to become a “force for good,” it is signalling its intention to deliver service at the highest level of human value. Just think of how this ideal can impact a world in need of healing, coming out of this pandemic. Just think of the potential to resonate with customer constituencies. Just think of the automatic bottom line impact.
It’s important to remember that while the pandemic seems to be winning the battle, it must never win the war. In ravaging our lives and livelihoods, the pandemic has also emerged an equal magnitude of humanity, from sacrificial frontline workers to neighbourly acts of kindness.
We know that going into the future, it will not be business as usual. I suspect that many customers, like myself, will become more selective with our patronage, choosing those businesses that have demonstrated a “social conscience” during this pandemic. Yes, we do have muscle memory as customers. In a previous column, I shared that businesses should take this unique opportunity to elevate their service quality and to re-introduce improved service standards to their customers when we emerge from this lockdown. We should not let a crisis go to waste.
So Deepak Chopra has said that “all great changes are preceded by chaos” and lately, I’ve been pondering the existential question of how leaders can repurpose their businesses as “forces for good” as we navigate to the next normal. There is so much wisdom to be harvested from our experiences throughout this crisis. This wisdom, if harnessed well by leaders, can enable businesses to become powerful influencers of new values that can emerge a refreshed world that is more charitable to human existence. Speaking of refreshed, of course we cannot have missed the magnitude of how this lockdown has impacted nature. Mother Nature has been allowed some oxygen whilst the humans have been away. The air seems less allergic, the waterways have become more sparkling and wild animals are behaving like domesticated pets.
First of all, being a “force for good” means that a business is committed to a noble intention alongside its profitability motives. Whilst there may be perceived tension between these two principles, they can co-exist if leaders are not distracted by the opposing nature of the two forces. The “force for good” system works best as a combination of leadership declaration, leadership action and leadership accountability.
This pandemic has been an accelerant of sweeping changes, delivering many learnings that can be trialled to produce a set of useful leadership practices. Permit me to share my ten musings on my takeaway leadership learnings.
- Decide on the noble intentions that will define your business. Insist that your business be defined by motives that go beyond profitability. An authenticity marker is how a business treats its employees and not necessarily publicity points for its corporate social responsibility.
- Move early and move fast to activate change. As we’ve seen with the pandemic, those who respond early to change are less brutalized by the change. Actually, it pays to self-disrupt or live in an “always ready for change” mode.
- Lead with confidence, especially during times of uncertainty. A leader is tested during difficult times. It makes sense though, to be a “learning leader” who is sharpening his or her saw, constantly. Abraham Lincoln once said that if he were given six hours to cut down a tree, he would spend the first five sharpening his axe. Makes sense.
- Make transparency your watchword. Leadership credibility sits on steadiness and believability. A leader’s words and actions should be solidly handcuffed.
- Ignore the “noise” of selfishness and self-interests. We see leadership in its most potent state, when social justice governs how “all” constituents are served. No group or individual should feel alienated when being led by the same leader.
- Surround yourself with experts and stay hungry. When leaders understand their limitations, flaws, blind spots and acknowledge their “ignorance” on matters, they release oxygen and pave the way for real progress.
- Keep the right metrics in view. When gathering data, begin with the end in mind. We need to be wary of the flaws associated with confirmation bias in collecting data and should make every effort to isolate the nice to know, good to know and need to know data.
- Focus on the welfare of all constituent communities. When the powerful and the disenfranchised are both served with empathy and a sense of even concern, leaders earn respect in the area of social justice.
- Communicate constantly as a rule and over-communicate during challenging times. Leaders who share pertinent information regularly, reduce the likelihood of false news, concoctions and mischief mongering. Uncontrolled information can cause unnecessary panic.
- Know your place as a 360° leader. Leaders are expected to be grounded and immune to derailment. Their voice of sanity can often spot hidden opportunities and pre-empt grievous outcomes.
On-boarding the “force for good” DNA into your business, should not be a hard sell to internal constituents, especially if the business is respected already for having a conscience. Contrary to the popularly held belief that humans are resistant to change, I believe that we are both resistant and welcoming. How else can we explain our comfort with the major changes associated with welcoming a baby, moving in to a new house, or getting married? Clearly, we have the propensity to welcome or reject change. It depends on “what’s in it for us.” We’re just choosy.
Smart leaders should not miss the portal created by this acceleration to re-introduce their businesses with new value propositions. A word of caution. If the leader is leading the charge, it may be a good idea to do a temperature check, just to ensure that he or she is not going in as the biggest risk to the change.
Just in case.