In exploring the leadership behaviours that drive performance and innovation in situations like the one we find ourselves, the Institute of Directors brought together business leaders to discuss Women, Leadership, and Innovation in a Crisis situation.
Here are the major takeaways
COVID-19 has brought unique opportunities to businesses
Businesses have been forced to abandon the old way of doing things. For the first time, many businesses are getting out of their comfort zones and evaluating their operations with radical innovation. They have become virtual, lean, and efficient and have fully tested their business continuity strategies.
Austin Okere, Founder of Ausso Leadership Academy (ALA) and Computer Warehouse Group (CWG) says both businesses have seized the opportunities presented to propel themselves to strong leadership positions.
For my two Businesses, we are seeing strong tailwinds accelerating us into a leadership position in the case of the Ausso Leadership Academy (ALA), and consolidating a leadership position in the case of CWG PlcAustin Okere
For the businesses like Cadbury Nigeria and Ruff N Tumble whose top management staff were represented at the event, the pandemic was a double-edged sword that presented both opportunities and challenges. It gave the businesses the opportunities to do more and rise, or get swept by the wave.
People are the most important assets
Investing in people is the right thing to do as people are the most important asset of a company. In the face of the unique set of challenges presented by the COVID-19, every company needs its people if it hopes to respond adequately and ride the wave.
The way the leader responds in a crisis will affect the organization and the way its people respond. There are opportunities in a crisis and people will always be the bridge between your products and customers. The crisis is an excellent opportunity for empathetic leadership to triumph.Adenike Ogunlesi, Founder and Chief reseponsibility Officer, Ruff ‘n’ Tumble
Women leadership in business organizations has resulted in more desired results because women are able to be more empathetic and inspire more trust from their co-workers.
As Austin Okere’s puts it, women have three traits that stand them out as leaders in times of crisis. One is their greater tendency to be their authentic selves and win the trust of people. The second is the sound rigour of logic that they display which is probably because they have to work three times as hard as their male colleagues to get elected into positions.
“The third is that women display a very high level of empathy. This makes it easy for people to relate to them.”
Being very forward-thinking and proactive is key to being able to stay relevant in difficult situations. CWG Plc already started trying out rotational remote working about a year ago, and Ausso Leadership Academy had digitized all her records and started using shared online files to aid collaboration when working remotely and in the virtual space.
Although the remote working was majorly to reduce the number of hours that employees spent trapped in traffic, the preparedness gave a significant buffer when it became necessary to work from home and still maintain a level of productivity and relevance.
People still need products in times of crisis
Managing Director of Cadbury Nigeria Plc, Yimika Adeboye held discussions with her team on resolving the new problem that COVID-19 presented. Cadbury produces edible items and the company understood that people still needed the items to stay healthy.
So the challenge was not a dearth of customers but a need to establish new ways of reaching the customers.
The team eventually created a solution that was based on communities. Community reps became points of sale to reach people needing the products within the community. This served as an alternative to the open market that had been Cadbury’s main channel of selling its products before the lockdown was initiated.
Top executives acted as mystery shoppers from time to time. Yimika herself patronized the community rep in her home area and made inquiries about packets of Cadbury Hot Chocolate, to which she got satisfactory responses. Asides the benefit of first-hand experience, it also motivated the team to be at their best consistently.
Adenike Ogunlesi talked about how the impact of the COVID-19 was sharp on her company, Ruff ‘n’ Tumble and how sales went down by 90% as the pandemic continued. Identifying a new need for face masks that the company could meet, she got the necessary hands in the company informed and people communicated their willingness to make it work.
The people knew that the company cared about them and their wellbeing and were willing to work to get the face masks produced. Within a week, we set up structures and got the face mask production up and running. Of course, we provided transportation and feeding for the staff to remove worries in those areas. It was costly, but it was an avenue to be productive and to be relevant in the face of the challenge.Adenike Ogunlesi
Ensuring that as a company the team knows it is highly valued, getting the right balance between empathy and responsibility, identifying the pressing needs when other niches are no longer required are some of the many leadership characteristics that are needed to handle crisis situation successfully. Opinions point towards women showing more of these characteristics in such situations.
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