Every Crisis Tests A Leader

The Leader’s Institute Conference 2020

Every crisis tests a leader and there are certainly leaders being tested and crises aplenty. Add to coronavirus, Brexit, climate change, the environment, international conflict, economic crisis, human rights violations… the list goes on. But it’s the pandemic that has laid our leaders bare; there is no handbook for the current global situation which is devastating both public health and economies across the world and posing the most difficult of questions – which do we sacrifice, people or the economy?

It’s tempting, as Hilarie Owen pointed out, for governments simply to put this question in the ‘too difficult’ box and address the tactical questions and situations they can address whilst skirting round the big issues. Stay home! Hands! Face! Space! Don’t Travel! Bubble! Red, Amber Green! Tier One, Tier Two, Tier Three! Don’t go to school, go to school! Go to University, stay at University and don’t go home! The knee jerks and U turns are endless.

Aligning business models with people, the planet and profit takes committed collaboration and a move away from growth and profit as the only drivers

In the face of such a deep crisis, what do we expect of our leaders? Professor Keith Grint believes that trust is the fundamental issue that determines what works. The next iteration of the Edelman Trust Barometer is going to make interesting reading. Currently the UK the government needs to get what it is trying to do right – without trust in a track and trace programme that works and is effective, it is very difficult to move forward without further fundamental damage to the economy. Lockdowns, local or national, are simply kicking the can down the road. Track and trace is the only strategy that will enable us to operate anything like normally whilst ensuring the NHS can cope and the Treasury still has something left to treasure.

Re-setting values

The past six months have given people the chance to pause, really think about their values and work out what is important to them – there is no doubt there has been a value ‘re-set’. As individuals we yearn to leave the planet in a better state than we found it and pass on to the next generations solutions not problems, but at state and political levels this is much harder. Politics is driven by short termism; politicians are driven by power not by policy – policies are only good so long as they win the next election. Promising something better in 30 years time doesn’t win votes.

Or does it? Jane Davidson explained how Wales is leading the world in putting in place a legal framework to deliver net carbon zero and safeguarding the country for future generations. Wales may only be small but its vision is world-beating. Dr Waddah Ghanem reiterated this saying that net zero is difficult and costly but must be regarded as an investment not a cost; good environmental policy has to also mean good economic policy. Getting governments to take on big ideas and integrate them into policy must be driven by values. Aligning business models with people, the planet and profit takes committed collaboration and a move away from growth and profit as the only drivers. Dr Katherine Trebeck believes this can be achieved if we enable people to take their own decisions and be really engaged in business policy.

Will Hutton believes that the pandemic will refocus society on values, and values will drive public opinion – the winners will be those who can demonstrate value and purpose over short termism. I hope he’s right but have my doubts.

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Image credit: Markus Winkler

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