Musings of a Fallible Leader: Corporate Leadership in the Pandemic

By HPA COO Justin Moser

Corporate leadership has never been the walk in the park that twentieth century entertainment made it out to be. Granted, from the 1950s into the 2000s, the economy did become more global, business more hyper-competitive, supply chains more complex, and share changes more dynamic. Economic protections and competitive moats diminished in many sectors that aren’t named FAANG! In other words, leadership got harder.


Yet this was all pre-pandemic. Now we have global shocks, faster-than-projected digital adoption, supply chain disruptions, channel decommissioning, and a more dynamic and vulnerable period of firm market share than any time in recent history.


Add to the macro and microeconomic complications today’s 1) remote, fatigued workforce and 2) polarized teams (forget the political elements of the latter). In the U.S., we are divided around the right level of prudence to avoid community transmission – what should be open vs. closed, when to wear a mask (and what kind), the benefits of in-office vs. work-from-home, and like topics bring a divergence of preferences. We experience this in our friendships and extended families. And in a free society, this may always be the case.


Leadership was already getting more difficult strategically, and now it’s a bear.


We’ve addressed the challenge of setting evolving strategic direction during the pandemic in recent articles like Managing the Whipsaw: Planning for the Next Normal and How Strategy Development Changes in a Downturn. Clearly there is a need for shorter horizons, scenario planning, focused imperatives, and adaptability, with execution capability reigning.


But what about human leadership? I see colleagues and clients wrestling through the above, and extensive content has already been published by others.


I’ve observed that the best principles for leadership seem to apply even more in the volatility that is now our norm. And they remind me of a mentor who once invested in sending me to a multi-day, 1:1 offsite (ChangeMasters), with intensive coaching to break me down and build me back up, during the best of economic times in the mid-2000s.


These principles are timeless today:


  • Openly share yourself.

The life of every member of your team, or at least their outlook, is markedly different than it was in January 2020. We all have a changed reality in common. If you openly share what you’re working through personally and professionally, change becomes more tangible, and team members are encouraged to work through changes both within the firm, and their own lives, accordingly.


  • Actively acknowledge and take into account others’ points of view, from their perspective, with warm, open-minded reactions to others’ thoughts and ideas.


Considering not only the events of 2020, but also the inherent, pervasive realities of unconscious biases, this 2000s principle now feels more prescient than ever. If you don’t feel like your leadership colleagues can identify with your own situation, that is a tough starting line.


  • Show effective, authentic praise with appropriate frequency.

Do you have high standards? Great. While you may think you are ‘Jobs-ian,’ applying them to others in a never-satisfied gait is demotivating, even in authoritative leadership cultures. If you can consistently demonstrate the ability to verbalize praise for sound work, all leadership styles increase in effectiveness, as does motivation.


  • Develop deeper relationships with your colleagues and teammates, giving hope and more personal inspiration.

Anyone who has been part of a closely knit organization, family, or faith group recognizes that when you know your leader or colleague personally, you are more inspired by the work they are putting in during periods of change and endurance.

I hope my teammates can remind me of these priorities again, when I get them wrong.

Wrestling with how to drive the art and science of strategic change? The foundation of HighPoint’s consulting team is experience. Our seasoned change agents have both best-in-class strategy firm and in-line leadership credentials along with the EQ that comes from that deep functional and vertical expertise. If your business seeks change that sticks, contact us to start the conversation.