What does leadership look like post Covid 19?

As we move slowly out of lockdown, it’s now even more important that we mobilise people to continue protecting people and tackling the emerging challenges ahead. This isn’t like coming out of a traditional emergency or even an economic crisis. We’re in a situation of moving out of the emergency response into a post-emergency state, where we might need to quickly revert back to emergency mode, while preparing for a recovery, which might be the biggest recession in over 100 years. We’re moving from the surreal into the slow burn.

1. Don’t try and come up with a solution to problems we don’t yet understand

We’ll need to continue helping people protect their lives and others while creating the space for people to come together to tackle emerging challenges on the horizon. It can be tempting to find either quick fixes that aren’t sufficient for the challenges ahead or to propose holistic solutions that pretend to solve every problem we might face. What both have in common is an excessive confidence in what the future might hold.

As Christian Bason advises:

“I am in no doubt that in this time of extreme turbulence we must listen to those leaders who ask us to follow them even though they admit they do not fully know the path ahead. Especially because they admit they do not know it.”

2. Create space for people to share what matters to them to surface the ingredients for collective action

What we need instead is to allow people to be open, share what they’re experiencing, what lessons they’ve learnt, what hopes and fears they have, to guide us to imagining and shaping what might be several overlapping futures. As Sam Hannah Rankin says in the “How not to waste a crisis” discussion facilitated by @statesofchange on leadership in Covid 19.

“The people who are working to support the people who are supporting the frontline, we need to be really kind, creating empathy for the system, create “the oxygen of generosity in the system”. If we embed that in the bureaucracy we’ll have something of value that will come out of this crisis.

As a principal says in the National Leadership Centre blog

“Just because I’m a Chief Executive Officer doesn’t mean I’m any less likely to catch Coronavirus, or any less worried about my loved ones. And I’ve let staff know that, because it’s important that they recognise I’m not that different to them in a crisis of this magnitude; I am here to lead them and get them through this safely, but I do still share this experience with them.”

What I’m doing is supporting my organisation to learn from what we’ve built with people to understand how we tackle the future and use that learning to start experimenting the recovery now.

How are you creating space for people to make sense of what lessons they’ve learnt and to tackle the future together?

3. Come up for air from the emergency response to learn from others

In the same way, we’re looking to other places for how they’re reducing the spread of Covid 19, from track and tracing to how we plan for post-lockdown, we’ll need to explore how others have both supported their societies to recover from crisis in the past— be it from wars, pandemics or recessions and consider that many of the trends that have revealed themselves during Covid 19 were creeping up below the surface. We’ll need to explore how others are trying to renew their communities and economies post Covid 19.

We’ll need to be able to respond to changing needs, practices & motivations of citizens, networks and even society, while acknowledging the tensions and contradictions within our communities on what to do next, as increasingly our communities being ever more divided by inequalities that will continue to multiply.

How are you learning from others to support or challenge you to think differently about you might tackle the challenges ahead?

4. Open up people’s imaginations to test together ways to respond to futures we can’t yet fully grasp

We’ll need to improvise, learn and iterate, allow time for ourselves and others to adapt and challenge ourselves to move to the edges to test our capacity or that of our organisation, neighbourhood or network to adapt. From using scenarios to open up people’s imaginations and create new collective futures to being able to test micro-actions that have collective impacts on themes like the climate.

We might ask ourselves why it takes a crisis for us to start to work in new ways that would otherwise have taken months to achieve. However, many people aren’t afraid of change but of the loss that it may create. I’ve seen various types of resistance to change in others, without forgetting myself. We’ll need to take advantage of where people have quickly changed themselves and now find it natural to work in new ways, and others who have been paralysed by the situation or the impact is that on them either economically or psychologically.

In the post-emergency of Covid, we’ll need to help people navigate through the uncertainty and discomfort that’s created by the change they might experience. As Cassie Robinson. advises:

“If we suggest that there will soon be a time “when things get back to normal,” we send people toward the comfort of nostalgia — — — rather than keeping them engaged in a conversation about change. If we suggest that “we can never go back to the way things were,” people may feel overwhelmed and tune out”

What about if we didn’t make it comfortable for people to cope with change, but to tolerate the discomfort and help people distinguish between what is really critical to preserve and what they can expend of during the period of change? Here’s what I’ve learnt from working with people to navigate change, how have you helped people through change?

What I’m doing to support my organisation is to open up people’s imaginations and get people to use their collective intelligence to shape and respond to the future.



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Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese