The Covid-19 pandemic is undoubtedly a universal crisis. However, as Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. Hence the question: How is Namibia ensuring that the Covid-19 crisis is not going to waste? Differently put, what are some of the instructive lessons from the Covid-19 crisis that should not be let to waste?
Flexible culture, not stubbornness
In accord with several past studies, culture is a preeminent variable that significantly affects individuals and organisations. Thus, one of the strong lessons emerging from the Covid-19 crisis has to do with people’s mindsets and behaviours. On culture and behaviours, the first lesson from the Covid-19 pandemic is the need to be flexible and adaptable to new realties through constant renewal of mind.
It is pointless to continue conforming to patterns of the pre-Covid-19 realities. Continuing to conform to pre-Covid-19 patterns could be compared to someone who continue to dance on the dancefloor despite the fact that the DJ has ended the song or to someone who continue to exhibit certain dance moves whereas the DJ has changed to a new beat and song.
On the contrary, being adaptable and transforming to the unfolding situations and conditions, commonly referred to as the “new normal”, might be prudent. Covid-19 is an extraordinary and abnormal event. One thing it (Covid-19) has taught the world is that humankind cannot successfully rely on self-will and self-redemption. There seems to be a greater force beyond human comprehension and ability. For this reason, Covid-19 is a “classroom” in itself, with such classroom demanding sensitivity to listening. Thus, the second lesson from Covid-19 could be attentive listening.
Too much information is the hallmark of the current Covid-19 era. Social media and the Fourth Industrial Revolution have significantly opened up access and availability of information. With social media, the news is always ahead and difficult to control.
Therefore, it now requires a unique skill to discern righteous voices from the misleading ones. With too much information and “noise”, communication has taken on a new dimension. It is no longer merely about giving out loads of information through speaking or writing – instead, attentive listening has become a necessity. Attentive listening requires removing barriers to communication. Blockages or barriers to communication are usually pride (“I know”) and self-righteousness (“my view is always right”).
Therefore, for good communication to take place, it requires adopting a teachable spirit and practicing humility. In other words, adopt an attitude of “I do not know everything”.
This means, for instance, that business leaders should, in this time of Covid-19, genuinely try to learn from others and not merely bombard others with own viewpoints, perceptions and beliefs. Perhaps, this believing in own opinion is one of the major reasons for making it difficult to convince a significant number of Namibians to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
For instance, did we, as a country, pause and reflect on what exactly is making people shun vaccinations? Have we genuinely tried to understand the “fear of the other”, instead of the pervasive “othering” of the other? It should be about truly listening to the daily-lived experiences and conditions that are hindering people from being vaccinated and assisting them to grasp the importance thereof and removing those conditions, rather than just bombarding people with “you must get vaccinated”. Understanding and removing people’s fears through targeted educational campaigns that allay those fears might lead to a greater number of people being vaccinated and, thus, quickly attaining set vaccination targets, i.e. 1.5 million Namibians.
One important lesson that emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic is to keep communication lines open. Even if the topic to be discussed is blurred, as long as communication is constant, inspiration and magical key that unlock the problem are likely to emerge. However, to decode such inspirations and ideas requires sensitive listening.
Changing one’s mindset and beliefs (culture) could be one of the most difficult things in life. It is almost unimaginable for people to erase from memory their programmed mind what they have seen, heard or experienced, which became their culture over time. As such, even though genuine attempts are made to entrench best and transparent communication practices, there will still be some who refuse to see the “light”.
For instance, regardless of how a business enterprise transparently communicates, for instance by opening up its records on the poor state of its financial condition, there will still be some individuals who will refuse to acknowledge that reality, and will continue to believe that the “company has money”. Hence the question: What should organisational managers and leaders do about those who are unadaptable to new realities?
Enter coercive leadership
Is it possible to be coercive and autocratic but yet within the ambit of law and policy? Is this not a contradiction in terms? The hallmark of coercive and autocratic leadership style is ‘Do what I tell you’, and it works best in times of crisis, wars or in “problem” cases to kick-start a turnaround. Perhaps Winston Churchill’s statement meant a coercive (autocratic) leadership style is what should apply in times of a crisis. However, the challenge in the 21st Century democratic dispensations and liberal constitutions is that coercive and autocratic leadership approaches are likely to result in few “bloodied noses” and likely to be opposed.
Coercive and autocratic leadership styles are incompatible with current dispensations; hence, coercion and autocracy might only work if implemented within the ambit of law and policy. However, to find a balance between force and law (democracy) could be a serious challenge. Thus, a leadership approach, coined in this article as essential coercive and autocratic leadership, could be a new leadership framework that organisational managers and leaders should perfect for a good crisis never to go to waste.