What can the modern corporate space race tell us about leadership in a post-Covid world? 44’s Nick Robbins explores the great unknown (from the comfort of planet earth)…
I’ve been absolutely fascinated by Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson’s rocket-measuring, post-Covid leadership battle that’s been playing out over the past few months.
Not because I have any particular interest in watching incomprehensibly rich men squabble about whether they can legally add ‘astronaut’ to their blue-ticked Twitter profile, but because it says a lot about what some of the most high-profile business leaders in the world think leadership is.
Leadership in a post-Covid world
The role of leadership during a crisis is a much-discussed topic. The people we consider the best leaders are often those who can navigate extraordinary periods with dignity, calmness and a clarity of vision that engenders trust and dedication among those they lead.
What comes next is less discussed. A crisis leader can lose their way when recovery is needed or when an uncertain future lurches into view and the ability to proactively shape the landscape, rather than reactively respond to issues, is the order of the day. For every Churchill who can galvanise a country through a war effort, you need an Attlee who can sell a vision of rebirth to a nation.
What we see with Bezos et al, is a style of leadership that’s built around grandstanding and status. It’s leadership by inspiration, not by any connection to the world their employees inhabit.
The question is, what message does the behaviour of Bezos convey to an Amazon worker? Pride, or something else? What behaviours are being role-modelled when our space*-bound leaders openly declare the costs involved, and put their stratospheric mission as a clear priority? It creates great headlines and massages some sizeable egos, but it doesn’t detract from the pressing issues affecting the employees whose work has put them in their rockets’ command modules.
Do as I say, not as I do
There is an argument that can be made that these men are pioneers. Modern Magellans whose bravery, ambition and sheer derring-do are behaviours that only the best can hope to emulate. To me, their behaviour smacks more of the folly than the conquering of the unknown – the white elephant more than the traversal of the great beyond.
Communication is about so much more than what we say, what we write and what we upload onto intranets and social media. It’s about what we do. And, for leaders in a post-Covid world, what you do is amplified as others will not only follow, but see your actions as those necessary to become a leader.
One challenge that many businesses and leaders are grappling with at the moment is how to communicate plans around their ways of working. Whatever these are, even if they are a return to the way they were in the dark and distant past of 2020BC (before Covid), leaders and comms teams have to justify their choice. For all the comms that can help smooth this message over, a key aspect is leaders role-modelling the behaviour that they want their colleagues and teammates to follow.
We’re all in this together
Whatever model you’re encouraging your employees to adopt, your leaders need to not only be on board with, but visibly modelling the behaviour, as well as lending their voice and weight to any comms and updates on the topic. To borrow a line from Disney’s magnum opus High School Musical, ‘we’re all in this together’. So, asking people to come to the office four days a week, while senior leaders dial into calls from home every day just won’t fly. Likewise, asking colleagues to mind every penny, while you’re burning millions on a status-boosting space flight is a message that’s going to alienate more than unite.
So before you get distracted by whatever your equivalent of jetting off into space is, think carefully about the people who would much rather you kept your attention on planet earth, where they are living and working.
If you’d like to have a conversation about ways to boost leadership in a post-Covid world, get in touch with us using the contact form on our website.
*or near space.
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