I recently attended a meeting where top business leaders discussed what they learned during Covid. The word most used was humility, meaning the quality or state of being humble. It isn’t often a word used by or for top business leaders. They also said that collaboration with fellow leadership team members, suppliers, government and community members pulled their organizations through some difficult times.
When the U.S. president announced the cooperation and collaboration between Johnson and Johnson and Merck to have the latter make J&J’s Covid vaccine, it was assumed it was the result of the defense production act. But that kind of collaboration was going on voluntarily all through the economy starting as soon as the seriousness of the pandemic was understood. So many stories of people working together, on a large or small scale, were never told.
We heard supply chains were seriously disrupted as parts of the world totally shut down but not the how some were unable to get products vital testing components to fight the pandemic. Cash flow failed to cover the big risks being taken to ramp up production for businesses that could and did ramp up production. Most businesses survived, some just barely. In many instances, leaders were called on to be bolder than even they knew they could be.
Many leaders and companies for whom stakeholder leadership was an abstract concept found themselves doing extraordinary things for employees and their communities. The pandemic required leaders to make decisions putting public health and humanity before profit in ways that had been faint ideas. There were many lessons learned in how to transition to fair and equitable business models – models that help business be part of the solution and not the problem.
As we accelerate the rollout of vaccines and slowly reopen local businesses what does this all mean for the future? Will extraordinary collaboration keep happening to solve societal and world problems? Will government at every level move beyond petty politics and power struggles to become partners in solutions?
We humans will face other pandemics, climate disruptions and many big changes in world economics or scientific advances. Do we have leaders at every level ready to solve real problems in a human-centered way, with flexibility, empathy, compassion, collaboration and humility?
One would hope that our leaders don’t need catastrophes like the Covid pandemic to learn the value of being human-centered and learn the absolute necessity of collaboration with and inclusion of everyone to solve wicked complex problems.