Leadership in uncertain times

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by Malcolm Curor, CEO United Manganese of Kalahari

These are uncertain – even frightening – times in which we find ourselves. Simultaneously, we’re experiencing the psychological and financial aftershock of a global pandemic, the escalation of geopolitical tensions, and the spectre of rising global conflict. We are also experiencing unprecedented levels of social division.

Given this unsettling background, the demands on corporate leadership have changed dramatically. Today’s corporate leaders are faced with navigating a complex scenario that is not only volatile and uncertain, but also difficult to decode. As leaders of industry, we will have to transcend traditional paradigms, and foster and encourage a culture of resilience, adaptability, and ethical responsibility.

Resilience is often considered to be the concern of those within the lower economic strata, and yet, it’s a quality required by all. Leaders of industry are often faced with seemingly insurmountable hurdles, just as their employees are, and examples need to be set, about not only bouncing back from setbacks, but also maintaining that momentum, and forging ahead with strength and determination.

Leaders must cultivate this culture of resilience within their organisations and set the example of embracing challenges as an opportunity for growth and learning. We must foster a mindset of perseverance and flexibility and ensure that our teams are equipped with the psychological armoury to face adversity head-on. This doesn’t mean, however, that we must be unyielding, as no individual or organisation can hold off a wall of change indefinitely. The key here is adaptability: accept that change is taking place and create strategies as to how to accommodate that change and keep moving forward.

As we’ve discovered in recent years, the rapid pace of change, both technological and sociopolitical, has meant that yesterday’s strategies are suddenly rendered obsolete. We must learn, therefore, to abandon rigidity of thought, and be nimbler and more willing to pivot and re-invent our strategies. In short, we must be open to ongoing innovation, anticipate future trends, and prepare our organisations to meet them. Furthermore, if we’re to maintain a competitive edge globally, we must maintain a keen understanding of the developments within international relations and global markets and be able to respond dynamically to these geopolitical shifts.

At UMK, we are keenly aware of the international call to sustainability and the ethical responsibility that it brings. Industries around the world are increasingly focused on the long-term impacts of their operations, and their leaders are called to put practices in place that ensure environmental stewardship and social responsibility. And this isn’t just about complying with regulations, but rather a deeper understanding that ethical conduct and corporate success are inextricably linked.

I’ve dealt with the strategies that we need to employ, but all these plans come to nothing unless they are communicated effectively, right down the line. Clear and transparent communication will ultimately see to it that our teams align with our thinking and that, ultimately, we are all working towards shared goals. Complex information needs to be communicated in such a way that is easy to understand and inspirational, and it must be transmitted within an environment of trust and collaboration, rather than authoritarian top-downism, which can only engender resistance.

This brings me to the quality of empathy, which is fundamental in good leadership. People need to feel recognised and heard, so understanding and valuing where our employees and stakeholders “come from” is crucial. The members of our organisations all come from diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences, and it’s our responsibility as leaders to show a genuine care and concern, and recognise that the perspectives of, and challenges faced by, others, may be different to ours. But, of course, no less valid.

These difficult times in which we find ourselves call for a new approach to leadership. We must be resilient, open to change, and committed to sustainable and ethical practices. Our communications need to be effective, and this can only happen once we come from a place of empathy. We will have to not only embrace change but be an active part of it. It’s incumbent on us to lead our organisations with vision, courage, and a deep sense of responsibility to both our immediate, and broader global, community.

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