As world and business leaders continue to descend on Davos, the list of global challenges seems longer than ever. In this time of crisis and uncertainty, CEOs or leaders must adjust to these rapidly unfolding international events. But how?
This was discussed during an FT Live panel hosted in partnership with HCLTech on the second day of the World Economic Forum 2022. C Vijayakumar, CEO & MD at HCLTech, was joined by Lynn Martin, President at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), and Paul Achleitner, Former Chairman of the Supervisory Board, Deutsche Bank. The panel was hosted by Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, the Financial Times’ US Business Editor.
The last two years have presented a significant number of disruptive events – the COVID-19 pandemic, worsening geopolitical tensions, the climate crisis, inflation and the rapid increase in the cost of living – that have challenged leaders in their roles.
“COVID was the biggest challenge for HCLTech,” said C Vijayakumar. “We provide mission critical services to clients, such as hospitals and utility providers, enabling front-line teams to bring forward solutions.” This was all disrupted by the pandemic.
Lynn Martin added: “The uncertainty [of these events] manifested itself in markets, which led to inflation and interest rates hikes, particularly in the US.”
Paul Achleitner pointed to the challenge of remote working. “The pandemic has proven work travels to where people want to live, which is a fundamental shift with very big implications. Quality of life is now an enormous competitor,” to business.
The core principles of leadership
How a leader responds to this crisis and uncertainty is guided by their core principles.
“Tomorrow brings new challenges, which is why you need an adaptative style of leadership," commented Vijayakumar.
"A key guiding principle is understanding your true intent and making it visible to your teams and broader organization. Once clear with the intent, deliver it with intensity," he continued.
He also emphasized that in times of crisis and uncertainty when quick decisions need to be made, it’s better to act swiftly rather than relying on potentially unreliable data.
Achleitner agreed and stated that it’s crucial for leaders to establish quick and clear rules in times of uncertainty. "Setting that level of certainty in a time of uncertainty is a key trait of leadership,” he said.
He also added that “in a time of crisis, the board needs to step back and empower its CEO.”
The importance of communication and connected leadership was highlighted by Martin.
She said: “Communication is the most important thing in a minor and major crisis.” In the context of the NYSE this means clearly communicating to the market, the organization, regulators and customers.
Turning crisis into an opportunity
Global crises are disruptive, but they can be turned into an opportunity.
Vijayakumar explained that despite the challenges of Covid, it “allowed us to help our clients double down on resilience and accelerate cloud migration.”
Martin also added that during the pandemic and in the midst of the volatility in the markets, there are always new lessons to learn and she wanted some of her team’s focus to center on the development of new products.
As an example, the resilience built up during the pandemic meant the NYSE’s systems are now able to process income order messages - “half a million a day” - at peak volatility without any disruption.
The next crisis
“Leaders can’t be in crisis mode forever,” said Martin. But, it’s important to be aware of potential disruptions on the horizon.
When asked by the panel host where they saw the next challenges coming from, Achleitner said “we shouldn’t underestimate the covid crisis that’s looming in China and the impact this will happen on its citizens and the world economy.
Martin suggested that the threats from cyber attacks were a concern. It’s an area that is heavily invested in, but not spoken about enough.
Vijayakumar added that accelerating de-globalization does pose a challenge, but that “it needs to be looked at in the context of different industries.” He also referenced the damage inflation could cause and whether Central Banks and other institutions are prepared.
As a leader, it’s imperative to keep longer term goals in mind, while dealing with current crisis and uncertainty.
Vijayakumar added: “Short-term crises require concerted action to make decisions, but you can’t lose sight of the business goals. There needs to be a balance.”