Five leadership lessons that Covid-19 taught us

The pandemic has changed the way we do business and taught leaders how to act fast during an unprecedented situation

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When the Covid-19 crisis hit the UAE earlier this year, I had just taken on a new project that involved working closely with a client on a daily basis.

Little did I know then how the crisis would affect the global economy and how we work. The project that my client and my team were supposed to work on shifted completely online. Since our project depended on us being together in the same physical space and we were unable to meet for months, the launch date was delayed for a year.

As an entrepreneur committed to developing my leadership skills, there is only so much that books and seminars can do to prepare you. I could not anticipate this situation or the way it affected my leadership, but it taught me important lessons that would help us navigate a crisis.

Adaptation is key to business survival: The Covid-19 crisis showed us that we really cannot predict what will happen tomorrow. Rules change all the time to adapt to the situation, and so will our business strategies. For an organised and a goal-oriented individual who meticulously plans every detail, being unsure of how the next month would turn out was challenging and humbling. This crisis showed me that it was OK to keep changing our plans. It does not mean that we failed to plan well, or that we're not good leaders, but we are adapting to the situation. Adaptation is an important survival skill during uncertainty. By adapting fast, we are serving our business and protecting it against failure.

Act fast: Similar to how fast the regulations and the information available about the virus changed, so should your decision process. Taking as much time as you need is a luxury that you cannot always afford, especially during uncertain times. Learning how to act fast and pivoting would not only save you from making serious mistakes, but will also help you save money and your business in the long run.

It is absolutely fine to not know everything and seek help: For a while, I felt lost and did not know how I should go about planning a long-term strategy for one of my clients. I needed advice and I realised that it was fine to be lost, because everyone else was. So, I decided to reach out to other entrepreneurs about it. I felt at ease knowing that I wasn't the only one feeling that way, but was also able to come up with a solution faster when I asked people with a fresh perspective about my situation.

Great leaders are compassionate and supportive: Shifting to working from home and not being able to see team members has been challenging for many, especially to those who haven't embraced digital tools. It is during these difficult times that your team needs you the most. Even if your team can't see you face-to-face, you can still inspire and motivate them from afar. Gestures such as offering to be there to listen to their concerns through an open-door policy or providing well-being support and more flexible work options could go a long way with your team. My grandmother always told me that people cherish your actions more during challenging times, and that kindness is an investment that yields long-term results.

Serve your community: Businesses aren't separated from communities, and this is why they should serve their community members during good and tough times. Great business leaders are those who put their community first, whether by accommodating their clients in a safe environment, or by dedicating a certain percentage of their profits towards community initiatives.

As humanity overcomes this crisis, the definition of leadership and what constitutes a great leader will change. The leaders of tomorrow are those who can guide their team through uncertainty, act fast, seek help when needed, while being there for the team as their team is there for them.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi