by Deborah Schembri
COVID-19 has created a massive humanitarian challenge: millions ill and hundreds of thousands of lives lost; soaring unemployment rates in the world’s most robust economies; food banks stretched beyond capacity; governments straining to deliver critical services. The pandemic is also a challenge for businesses — and their CEOs — and it is a challenge unlike any they have ever faced, forcing an abrupt dislocation of how employees work, how customers behave, how supply chains function, and even what ultimately constitutes business performance.
Confronting this unique moment, CEOs have shifted how they lead in expedient and ingenious ways. The changes may have been birthed out of necessity, but they have great potential beyond this crisis. If they become permanent, these shifts hold the potential to thoroughly recalibrate organizations and how they operate, the companies’ performance potential, and their relationships to critical constituents.
Only CEOs can decide whether to continue leading in these new ways, and, in so doing, seize a once-in-a-generation opportunity to consciously evolve the very nature and impact of their role. Part of the role of the CEO is to serve as a chief calibrator — deciding the extent and degree of change needed. As part of this, CEOs must have a thesis of transformation that works in their company context. A good CEO is always scanning for signals and helping the organization deliver fine-tuned responses. A great CEO will see that this moment is a unique opportunity for self-calibration, with profound implications for the organization.
CEOs sense an opportunity to lead in a new, more positive and impactful way. COVID-19 has brought with it a pressurized operating environment the likes of which few of today’s CEOs have ever experienced. It has necessitated a reappraisal of how much is possible and in what time frames. It has forced personal disclosure at levels previously considered uncomfortable and, in doing so, has increased awareness of the importance of how leaders show up personally. It has shone a light on the interconnectivity of stakeholder concerns. It has prompted a level of substance-based, peer-to-peer CEO interaction that has elevated all involved. Ultimately, it has “unfrozen” many aspects of the CEO role, making possible a re-fusing of new and existing elements that could define the CEO role of the future.
Deborah Schembri is the CEO and Managing Director of STM Malta Pension Services Ltd.