School @ the Centre of Community


Leading Beyond COVID-19

This is the second in a series of articles on Maximising the Leadership Lessons from COVID-19, brought to you by Symphonia for South Africa’s flagship programme, Partners for Possibility.


Now that we are deep in the guts of the COVID-19 pandemic, what are we as leaders doing differently, that we could possibly export into the future of our organisations?

Out with the old?

I recently had a most inspiring conversation with a friend and client who runs a manufacturing business employing some 2,000 people. One of a few lockdown revelations for him was reconsidering the clock-in system that they have used since the birth of the business several decades back: “People can’t clock in and out at home,” he mused, “perhaps the time has come to scrap it; trust our people to do what needs to be done and hold them to new and higher standards beyond just time.” 

Risky business?

Of course, this has its risks: it’s change for one, and we know how averse people are to change (in this case opposition would be mostly from management). It also means he/they will need to lead differently; into people’s higher nature; calling out honesty, integrity, ethics and inherent goodness. Of course, there will be some who abuse the new system, but in the past such people would have been present by the clock only.

Bottom-line leadership

The implications of this seemingly minor change go well beyond scrapping an antiquated monitoring system. Trust levels rise and people feel respected. Energy and creativity rise as people are given higher levels of responsibly for their own productivity. A rise in energy and productivity reflects positively on the bottom-line of the business, stimulates innovation and quality of output. Such change is by no means cosmetic. It has a material impact on the business. All this, because a leader spent time reflecting on the lessons a pandemic could teach him and applied those lessons after the crisis had passed.  

Power-over to power-with

And what about power in the age of COVID-19? Power-over leaders will be finding it tough to maintain their usual stance across the fibre line. That is because even though such leaders may still exert power via phone, email or Zoom, people are experiencing them from within the context of a life-threatening epidemic. Such leaders simply do not wield the same level of control that they did a few weeks ago. They are having to move from power-over to power-with. This is a vital shift. They are needing to let go of the illusion of control and focus their energy on developing meaningful adult-to-adult relationships, meeting their employees where they are. They are beginning to get the fact that the way we treat our employees matters. As Richard Branson famously said: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”This perspective will be essential as leaders move into a post-COVID-19 world.   

Here are some points to reflect on as you consider what leadership lessons you can export to the other side of this pandemic:

  • • Take time to understand your employees. What is their home situation? What is troubling them? What challenges are they facing right now? This will foster deep and trusting adult-to-adult relationships.
  • • You can do the above in the form of a quick “check-in” at the beginning of each call during lockdown and face-to-face when we return to normal. Each person on the call should have their voice heard.
  • • As a leader, speak less on the calls and ask more questions. This will stimulate interaction, creativity and ownership.  
  • • Place trust in your people by not constantly checking up on them.
  • • Encourage staff to be creative with their day; to enjoy their work and find new and more efficient ways of working so they can achieve good work/life balance. 
  • • Be authentic about your struggles during this time. This will build connection and engagement.
  • Acknowledge employee’s efforts and demonstrate sincere gratitude.

Kay Moodley is a coach and Learning Process Facilitator for Symphonia for South Africa and its flagship programme Partners for Possibility. The program is committed to the leadership development of school principals and corporate leaders. For more information visit




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