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  • Writer's pictureKeith Wells

"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. It is also what it takes to sit down and listen"

Churchill’s words now have special resonance. Someone in a recent Roundtable I was involved in brought them into the conversation - and sparked a few thoughts and questions. The discussion explored how the pandemic has given new depth and definition to some old-established ideas, bringing a particularly sharp focus on leadership. And on leaders.

The world was becoming increasingly binary: ‘identity’ politics, statement versus statement, and ‘strong man at the top’ clichés were all driving a zero-sum game mentality. But that simplistic attitude has been exposed as inadequate for the real complexities that face us. Are the true leaders emerging now showing the truth of Ginny Rometti’s assertion that “value is not in what you know, but in what you share”.

‘Generosity scenes’ are a traditional feature in leadership narratives. Embracing the need to share is a vital characteristic of great leaders. It shows long-term vision. It also shows personal as well as emotional intelligence. And that you are prepared to take risks for a better result.

Among the many responses to the coronavirus epidemic, the most striking are those that have come about through collaboration. Some have been interesting for the partnerships across sectors (Formula 1 teams bringing their expertise to a completely new sphere, for example) but none quite as remarkable as those between competitors. For example, Canon, Toyota and Honda waiving their IP rights on all technology that might be garnered to find a treatment for the virus. The commercial value of the jealously-guarded capability is enormous, yet those leaders were prepared to take bold action for an outcome of far greater, and different, value. That is a rare, and vital, form of courage that should inspire others.

What might this mean in the 'next normal' (apologies - I dislike that phrase too)? It illustrates a route towards prosperity and sustainability, that is not only desirable but also available. Brand and organisations are, at their best, communities. They should work in every stakeholder's interest. But that can't happen by itself, or just because it sounds nice.

It needs a visionary presence, one that is capable of seeing different – sometimes contradictory – perspectives and of developing a compelling strategy. Sometimes, that calls for recognising potential synergies rather than differences and building consensus around that response.

Peter Drucker wrote that “the greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence itself, but to act with yesterday’s logic”. The post-COVID world has not yet formed, but it cannot be the world in which yesterday’s logic applies.

Organisations and their leaders, both public and private, are being faced with problems for which their experience has not prepared them. Their responses need to be honest, creative and generous. Honest, to enable true insight into the conditions around them and their ability to act. Creative, to step outside their zones of comfort and control. Generous, to welcome the contributions of others.

It all adds up to what Plato called the first of all human qualities: “courage, because it is the quality that guarantees the others”.

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