This article first appeared on El Mostrador on January 22, 2022.
Two years after the start of the pandemic, we can be sure that the world is not the same as we knew it. We have had to adapt to a new reality, leaving aside many of our habits and changing the way we function in society.
The pandemic is a clear example that changes are a constant, some more drastic than others, and that to face them it is not enough to show resilience, but it is necessary to have conscious leaders capable of guiding the way in an agile, committed, and empathetic manner, inspiring confidence and with a long-term vision.
It is precisely in these exceptional moments of change that the authenticity and congruence of our leaders are put to the test, and that we can see if they are up to the task. And what a few surprises we have had!
There have been more than a few world leaders whose leadership and management during the pandemic have been questioned, calling into question their moral rectitude.
In Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) held his customary “Mañanera” (daily meeting with the media), in the National Palace, without a mask, despite showing some symptoms, and informing the population hours later that his COVID test was positive. This situation contrasted significantly with the instructions his government had given to the population to (i) wear a mask so as not to expose others; (ii) in case of symptoms, assume that they were infected and stay at home; and (iii) not to take a COVID test in such cases.
And what about Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, who is now under public scrutiny for admitting before Parliament his presence at a party held in May 2020, in Downing Street, at one of the hardest moments of the pandemic. The controversial confession was the preamble to a new scandal when it became known about two other parties held last April. In other words, while the United Kingdom was suffering the ravages of the pandemic, the Prime Minister was brazenly attending parties, in flagrant violation of the rules of isolation imposed and required of the rest of the population.
These two examples provide invaluable reminders to those of us who operate in the business world, at a time when our leadership may also be being challenged, even if we do not realize it.
An example that some of you may have witnessed was provided by those leaders who – even in the worst moments of the pandemic – ordered employees back to the office (sometimes without proper precautionary measures), while they continued to work remotely. Another more current example is the work meetings were those present wear masks, except for the most senior employees. These practices, however absurd and irrational they may seem, occur frequently as if the level or position is exempted from compliance with internal rules or provided a shield of protection against the virus.
The problem with these practices is not only the conduct itself, nor the imposition of corrective measures or disciplinary sanctions. In our opinion, the most damaging effect of these practices has to do with the unwritten message that is sent to the rest of the group: lack of fairness, fellowship, solidarity, and empathy, and the consequent damage to talent management and retention.
Let’s not forget that a leader must be a role model for the rest and, in this sense, has the enormous responsibility of ensuring that his or her behavior is aligned at all times with the defined rules, but above all, with the values that serve as the foundation of the company’s purpose. A leader who behaves inconsistently with the company’s rules and values significantly weakens the cultural fabric of the organization, creates an environment of distrust, and generates resentment and frustration.
All this allows us to reiterate the importance of ethical and conscious leadership, especially in times of crisis. We do not need eccentric leaders, but responsible and ethical leaders, congruent with what they profess, who demonstrate by their example that no one is above the other, and that form matters as much as substance. A leader must be and appear to be!
Let us not forget that we are all agents of change. Therefore, we cannot be mere observers of bad practices and keep silent about them. Let us stop being passive accomplices of our environment and let us be protagonists of the future. We all can or are leaders in some areas of our lives. Let’s take it seriously.
By Susana Sierra