Home / Brand Stories / Leadership in the turbulent times of Covid-19

As the country adapts to the new normal of work from home, and digital becomes the new buzzword to keep individual organizations and the economy as a whole running, the importance of a strong leadership is being felt now more than ever.

The latest episode of PGIM India Mutual Fund presents Livemint ‘Amend, Adjust and Adapt’ – a series of high-powered panel discussions on success mantras for the new normal – puts the spotlight on leadership in these turbulent times. The series is moderated by noted journalist and Founder of Editorji Technologies, Vikram Chandra.

“A leader is a dealer in hope, but hope is not a strategy. We don’t know whether we are at the start, middle or the end of the pandemic and that makes planning really hard. Any vision, goals or strategies become meaningless," said Manish Sabharwal, Chairman and Co-Founder, Teamlease Services Limited.

“The balance of striking optimism with realism is probably the hardest part of the current situation. We are all in the same storm but not in the same boat. Digital learning has been brought from 2030 to 2020 in 90 days. The destiny of digital payments has been brought forward too. Some of our businesses are really benefiting from the digitalization super cycle. All we can do is make sure that real talent and real capital are allocated to our biggest opportunities," he added.

A strong leadership is key to the success of any business but a crisis like this underlines the real challenges, more than anything else. “Leadership is all about taking a decision between one wrong and another wrong. It is during times of crises that leaders are required the most and this is also the time that most leaders are produced," said Capt. Raghu Raman, Founding CEO, NATGRID and Ex-president, Reliance Industries.

In these testing times, the job of leaders is not just to motivate the staff but also reassure them so as to ensure productivity even where there’s lack of face-to-face interaction and absence of proper space or infrastructure.

“It’s extremely important for leaders to realize that this is not the time to start building their credibility. Right now, many people are extremely ‘sick’ and a large number of people are suffering from some form of mental health, including stress and anxiety. This is a time when they are looking for leaders to offer reassurance," Raman added.

The pandemic has pushed organisations to speed up their digital transformation journeys to stay connected with both the workforce and end consumers. “I think every business has to reorient itself to be digital. If you look at the construct of GDP of various countries, we see services playing a very big chunk. India’s services is about 55 per cent, industry is about 30 per cent and agriculture is about 15 per cent," said D Shivakumar, Group Exec President, Corporate Strategy and Business Development, Aditya Birla Group.

With most of us under lockdown, the need for services does not arise. To stay afloat in these turbulent times, the services industry, which is among the worst hit and could even take 2-3 years to come back, needs to use this time to reinvent. “What the pandemic has taught us is that digital is the default business model for every business now. This is the shortest distance with the least friction between the brand and the consumer," Shivakumar further said.

Live sports is perhaps one of the few sectors that has not been able to ride this digital wave. It may take a while for stadiums to go back to packed audiences. “For many of the top players and national champions, it’s been a break since the lockdown began and players have used this time to get physically and mentally stronger," said Pullela Gopichand, Chief National Coach, Indian Badminton Team.

“Sports gives us something to look forward to and rejoice which would have been good in such times. Professional players will adapt very quickly to playing without audiences. There is also talk about virtual experiences to fans through technology. Live watching may take some time, but not too long," he added.

With fitness being the new buzzword, a lot of people are using the digital media to get the best fitness and workout training. The online space is expected to grow dramatically for fitness in the post-Covid set-up.

At the corporate level, the need of the hour is fundamental changes in the way business is being organised and a decentralisation of the old command and control structure format. “In this pandemic, given India’s diversity the locking and unlocking has not been synchronous across the country, local teams in different places have had to step up and give directions on what to do instead of getting all the directions from the top. One fundamental aspect I see changing is the whole attitude towards the command, the control structure and the hierarchy," said Ajit Menon, CEO, PGIM India Mutual Fund.

Remote working has become the new normal but there is still a large section of people questioning the efficacy of the process to see if it is missing anything in terms of team dynamics. “In the past, two countries have not taken to working from home – Japan and India. This is because a lot of people derive mental satisfaction from the fact that they work hard in office, that their colleagues see them and they go back home late," Shivakumar said.

The pandemic has taught us which functions can work remotely and several organisations have started giving up office spaces to save costs and increase efficiencies. “Earlier, we went to the office for collaboration. But now, collaboration tools are available on your smartphone allowing you to do this from anywhere, not just your office desk. I think companies will take at least 25-30 percent of their workforce and put them on a work-from-anywhere mode. With work-from-home, the biggest cohort and talent pool that will come into the market includes women," he added.

The flipside? This discussion is applicable to only a small part of our population. “We are at the cusp of an increase in flexibility for 10 percent of the labour force as 90 per cent of the labour force cannot work from home. So far work from home has provided continuity. But we don’t know yet if it has provided connectivity," said Sabharwal.

In conclusion, India needs to see this as an opportunity to fast-track its growth story. “There is a real policy window for India so, the next 25 years will hopefully be different from the last 25 years. Everything that was holding us back, right from labour laws, regulatory cholesterol, banking system’s problems, compliance issues, education reforms – all is on the table," Sabharwal rightly concluded.

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