Keeping future fit through uncertain times

Saleem Sonday  - 04 September 2020

In the fifth of 10 webinars in the Survive and thrive series, brought to you by the Allan Gray Umbrella Retirement Fund, we explore the leadership qualities required to sustain and grow your business through extreme uncertainty. Watch the ‘Keeping future fit through uncertain times’ webinar recording below.

Key takeouts

Allan Grays’s head of People Operations, Ayanda Nogantshi, and chief executive officer of Motseng Investment Holdings, Ipeleng Mkhari, shared their views on the leadership qualities, values and hard skills required to steer organisations through uncertain periods and set them up to thrive. Here are the key takeouts from the discussion. 

Emotional intelligence is critical 

Although COVID-19 is primarily a health crisis, it has had a broad psychosocial impact on our society at large. Leaders need to be mindful that the people who work within their organisations have been deeply affected by the prevailing fear and uncertainty. 

Nogantshi believes that this pandemic has shown us that teams thrive under compassionate leadership, “Leaders have had to connect with their people at a human level. People don’t have time for corporate speak, because people can see right through corporate speak. They have needed leaders to connect compassionately, leaders who are self-aware, and leaders who lead with kindness and care.” 

The strength of leadership is often measured by looking at things from a commercial perspective, but Nogantshi argues that the strength of leadership lies in building a healthy team that is aligned with your purpose and can meet your deliverables. This style of leadership requires leaders to tap into their emotional intelligence and engage with their teams. 

Prioritise leadership development

Most leaders ascend to leadership positions as a result of their demonstrated technical expertise. The need to develop the skills required to manage and motivate people is often overlooked in many organisations. This can create a vacuum between what employees expect and need from their leaders and what leaders think good leadership looks like. 

“Those leaders who are strong technically but have struggled with leading with compassion and emotional intelligence have had to step up,” says Nogantshi. She says that she has observed that teams led by leaders who have invested in these “softer” skills have improved their productivity and have better employee retention rates. 

Embracing a holistic leadership approach that balances technical excellence with the ability to manage people compassionately, is essential to helping your teams navigate uncertain periods and thrive over the long term. 

Focus on your culture

The values that underpin your business play an important role in fostering a robust enterprise and resilient teams. The future is always uncertain and being able to adapt should be embedded in your business’s DNA. Mkhari believes that people are at the centre of a businesses’ growth or demise and has instilled five ‘Ds’ into the culture of her organisation to help her organisation navigate uncertainty: 

1. Diversification: Encouraging collaboration and diversification of thought makes it easier for your business to pivot, scale or change its focus as the environment demands it.

2. Dexterity: Your organisation should always be ready for change. Encouraging your people to adopt a mindset that embraces evolution and resourcefulness allows you to take advantage of opportunities.

3. Diligence: Amid periods of uncertainty you should continue to do the things that provide your team with discipline, connection, stability and structure. A culture of excellence has got to be maintained during challenging periods.

4. Discourse: Communicating and connecting with your team in times of hardship requires vulnerability, compassion, and candour. Check in on the wellbeing of your people.

5. Do good: Creating an equitable and empathetic culture in your organisation allows your people to be open about the challenges they face and observe in their communities during times of distress. This also presents opportunities for your business to think about how it can make positive contributions to society. 

Adverse times can foster growth 

In times of uncertainty, every action can feel like a big risk, but Mkhari says that we should lean into the opportunity that adversity presents, “It is not success that allows us to really see who we are and stand up, it is actually the crises that offer that opportunity.” 

Mkhari encourages leaders to use prevailing uncertainty as an opportunity to have courageous conversations with their teams and clients, declutter and clean up their business processes and practices, and reframe their perspectives. 

It is also useful to engage with other organisations around how they are responding to uncertainty and get different perspectives, as understanding how other people are responding to the changing environment can spark new ideas and unlock future business opportunities.

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