CKGSB Hosts Webinar Featuring Harvard Directors on “Leadership in the Midst of Uncertainty”
September 23, 2020

To watch the full webinar:

Business leaders have undergone a lot of changes and have had to question the kind of successful leadership that is needed in these difficult times. How do we boost new ways of collaboration and embrace challenges as leaders in these different situations? To address these questions, on September 1, Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB), held the latest CKGSB E-Dialogue E-Series on “Leadership in the Midst of Uncertainty” featuring CKGSB Associate Dean for Executive Education, Co-Director of Leadership and Motivation Research Center and Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior Zhang Xiaomeng; Founding Co-Director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Leonard J. Marcus; and Associate Director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative Instructor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Eric J. McNulty.

Opening the webinar, CKGSB Associate Dean Zhang Xiaomeng discussed the idea of resilience and how business leaders have undergone a lot of change during COVID-19. Sharing and discussing the findings of her survey series on psychological resilience she stated that “leadership is all about influencing and empowering others to confer uncertainties.”

Professor Zhang elaborated on this idea, explaining that, “through our research we have found that in an era of uncertainty, resilience or to build up resilience, depends on 3 factors: self-awareness, situational control and relationship building. As individuals, we need to fully understand ourselves to know where our strengths and needs are, in order to adjust to the environment and to adjust our behaviours.” She emphasised on the importance of understanding how to control the situation and recognising how it has changed, and “that it is through our connections in which you can build up your resilience.”

Founding Co-Director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Leonard J. Marcus further supported this notion by elaborating and expanding on meta-leadership. “What we are facing now as a humanity is a global pandemic, for us it is particularly meaningful to be in dialogue around the other side of the globe. Meta-leadership is looking at a problem from a wide perspective and building solutions from this wide perspective. This is very related to psychological resilience. As a leader people follow you and so part of your responsibility as a leader is to create conditions in which people are more likely to be resilient,” he said.

Elaborating on meta-leadership, Marcus emphasized on resilience and that is a factor which determines or influences others. “The capacity to connect with one another is key to resilience at an individual, national and international level. Our definition of meta-leadership is that people follow you. The key to making meta-leadership a success is always asking how you can help make others a success. If everyone in your system is oriented to mutual success, your chances of achieving that are great,” he said.

Associate Director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative Instructor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Eric J. McNulty further expounds on leadership and how you must always think about relationships. He explains that “one of the factors that differentiates a crisis to normal times is the level of complexity. If you think about our situation right now, we are not only worrying about the virus, but the medical and social responsibility of the virus and its economic implications. Being able to deal with this complexity differentiates the effective crisis leader from the not so effective one.”

McNulty further elaborated on meta-leadership and how it begins with who you are, “what we have found in our research is that there is a continual discipline process. If you are able to regulate your own anxiety you’re more likely to be successful in supporting your own workers.”

Professor Zhang then put forward the question of how we can accelerate recovery and adapt to new ways. She detailed key findings from her research, sharing that “the top 3 ways for leaders to unite their teams and companies during the epidemic is by improving epidemic prevention methods, clearly identifying strategic goals, and for top leaders and executives to use different methods to boost employee morale.’

For Marcus, it is about understanding what motivates people and the complexities of this. “First, it is important for leaders to understand and build solutions that align with the motivation. Second, is understanding how to adapt your organization. Third, is to show that you are concerned about their health and the health of the community. Understand the public health implications of whatever you are doing,” he explained.

Mcnulty emphasised on the importance of adapting. “It is all about the pivot. Think carefully as a business leader about our purpose and how we are helping solve problems and delivering value. It is also important to perceive beyond the obvious. Understanding how all these multiple connected factors act and interact with each other is important. By doing so, we’re not afraid of uncertainty anymore because we begin to master the complexity of what is going on.” he said.

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