Business Leadership Paradoxes From the Pandemic 

Business leadership is complex. 

Leadership in general has a storied history and various schools of thought supporting different methods. What may or may not come as a surprise is that the pandemic altered the very nature of business and what is demanded of business leaders. Skills must be more varied, approaches must be diversified, styles must be honed. 

The average employee is more mobile these days, both with the increased opportunity of virtual work and also in a very real sense. They are seeking more than a paycheck. They want more, and are willing to change companies and roles to get it. While the ability to change has been well studied with an analysis of what makes people resistant as well as what factors mobilize them, the ability to do so has perhaps never been stronger. The doors of the world were essentially opened up, particularly to white collar workers with computer skills just as a tremendous skilled worker shortage is coming into play. 

What does this mean for business leaders? It means that leadership, already fraught with complexities and conflicting methods, just became even more complicated. 

Canadian businessman George Scorsis has led a number of companies and said he noticed swift changes in the ways in which people conduct business in light of the pandemic. 

“Everything hit business leaders with more intensity and complexity and decisions had to be made rapidly,” he said. “The pandemic completely altered the face of business – likely forever.” 

Harvard Business Review states the issue succinctly: “The pandemic has accelerated a trend that has been unfolding over the last decade. As the world has grown more digital and complex, the range of decisions that leaders need to make has broadened, spanning from big picture strategic thinking to careful execution, to advancing technology roadmaps and upskilling and engaging employees.” 

Further, HBR notes, decision-making criteria has also expanded, focusing with more intensity on ESG consideration and more narrowly defined profit expectations. 

The pandemic has forced decision makers to venture out of their comfort zones and make difficult decisions in rapid succession. Just as companies and employees cannot be stagnant in a changing world, so must the leaders also gain knowledge and skills with which to effectively meet the demands of their positions. 

HBR interviewed leaders from over  a dozen companies to understand how they transformed and positioned themselves and their companies for the future. Microsoft, the Cleveland Clinic, and Philips are on that list of companies. 

The research proved that the leaders at these companies put forth effort to bolster their existing talents and also become more proficient in areas outside their normal scope. This mentality included increased collaboration, greater communication and the willingness/ability to work with others of different backgrounds and ways of thinking. 

Covid ultimately proved a testing ground for best business practices and opportunities. It also highlighted a number of paradoxes. 

According to the HBR story, everything discovered with its interviews aligned with the six paradoxes of leadership outlined in Blair Sheppard’s new book, Ten Years to Midnight

His book outlines the six paradoxes:

The “Strategic Executor”: Someone who has the ability to be a strategic visionary but who can also take decisive action. 

The “Humble Hero”: Or the leader who is willing to learn from others, including subordinates, and also have the guts to make bold decisions. 

The “Tech-Savvy Humanist”: Tech just took a front seat from the pandemic, and leaders need to learn accordingly. The ability to understand the tech and still care about people and how that technology can impact peoples’ lives is essential in this new high-tech era. 

The “Traditioned Innovator”: A clear understanding of a company’s purpose and the ability to be grounded in organizational goals for a greater purpose is essential and needs to be coupled with a willingness to innovate. 

The “High-Integrity Politician”: Business leaders need to be able to form partnerships and overcome resistance, especially where collaboration creates value. This must be coupled while establishing “trust and integrity as the bedrock of all their actions.” 

The “Globally-Minded Localist”: The digital age demands global thinking including a willingness to work with people from all over the world and exposure to new ways of thinking. This must be coupled with a localized understanding of the community in which the company operates. 

“The pandemic is forcing leaders to look at strengths and weaknesses and to assess areas of growth for themselves. It shook up the status quo, to so speak. Businesses and the people behind those businesses should be better for it,” said George Scorsis