Being led by Covid-19

This is an updated take in the post-Covid-19 times on my article from February 2020 (LinkedIn) on the lack of compromise being critical to a transformation’s success.

Having led and worked through multiple transformations since my last article I reflected over these last weeks to which it still holds true or if, indeed, I altered my views of the last 18 months.

I believe Covid-19 ultimately played in favour of the point I was making in the mentioned article: leaders must be uncompromising to trigger and drive transformations.

The vision – get out of the office and work from home
Taking the well-discussed global move to the home-office. It has been discussed, announced, and cancelled countless times over the years. It simply never worked. The resistance was significant, doubts grew like weeds, and compromise through creating “the hint of a possibility to work from home” for staff were counteracted by the leaders’ own behaviours: they came to the office every day. Like clockwork. And if a home-office policy was discussed or introduced, it was usually so weak that the wiggling toe of the one manager who wanted all her staff chained to the desks around her, immediately killed is implementation in reality.

The principle – the are no exceptions
Covid-19 finally forced the issue and became the most unrelenting leader in its own right. Backed by the worst pandemic in modern times, even the most hesitant of leaders pushed through truly transformational changes without compromise. 12 months later we lived in a new world with home office being the norm for large swathes of the work force. New ways of working have resulted from it and the businesses resisting the transition are now challenged to find capable staff willing to commute daily. Who would want to waste 10 hours in traffic coming to the office just to have their manager join the conference call from her home, right?

The execution – execute the change
Obviously, it’s not all sunshine and roses. There have been winners (quite a few CFO’s who now calculate fantastic ROIs for reducing office space, many employees who work from home, the environment) and losers (some public transportation, business real estate developers, the PM who just opened your company’s new office in March 2020, the employees who live in single bedroom appartements, etc.). Yet this is true for all transformations: you cannot make everybody happy.

The push-back – deal with those who endanger everybody else
There have been plenty of managers who pushed back on the changes required to deal with Covid-19 yet in the interest of all, leaders where uncompromising and unrelenting. Those managers, who endangered the health and well-being of the employees – and also the business itself – were brought into line by any means necessary.

The aftermath
Only time will tell with what kind of balance we end up with in the long-term between an hour-long daily commute and an existence in the home-office. Yet that balance, the compromise, happens AFTER the unrelenting, uncompromising start of a transformation. In the case of Covid-19 we hopefully start to heal and find new ways and balance of working and living.

In the end: you cannot achieve a deep transformation when you lead with compromise. No matter how much you may want to. Consequently, my conclusion on this experience and the previous article remains stable for you, the new generation of transformational leaders, out there:

Build a clear and tangible vision of what you want to have achieved with your leaderships team.
Agree on the principle that there are not going to be exceptions.
Start your initiative.
When the time comes and one of your trusted lieutenants undermines the vision, you’re your course and create a precedent for #2.
Start considering compromises only (months) after you established your transformation and ran through a number of precedents.
Good luck and may we never have something like Covid-19 again.

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