What’s already emerging

The coronavirus outbreak is changing how we interact with others: the implementation of social distancing measures and the inevitable virtual work meetings seem to be bringing us closer to others.

We care for our neighbours, for the elderly and for the most vulnerable in our town as we never have before.

In my work as a story coach helping leaders to translate their purpose into story, I obsessively observe peoples’ behaviour, trying to understand how it will eventually evolve into social norms and standards. 

If you have been reading the news lately you’ll have noticed the level of scrutiny that businesses are subjected to these days. The main standard of whether a business is behaving according to what is now expected seems to be how they balance profit and people, and which comes first for them.

The Guardian recently published a list of companies whose actions deserve applause and of others that don’t. Actions that it praised included looking after the employees and making donations to support health workers.

I find it interesting that there appears to be a call for change in how we define the role of business in our society. Recently the Financial Times published an article titled “Strong leadership in uncertain times” on the type of leadership that is needed in the current climate. These are some of their answers of the best-known CEOs in the world:

– Focus on your mindset and wellbeing first.

– Find sources of optimism and compassion.

– Stick to your principles, work with your partners and bring transparency to the table.

– Stay close to customers and employees.

– Rely on authentic communication.

– Trust your instincts.

– Put contingency plans in place. 

– Stay calm and focus on positive stories.

– Consider going back to being entrepreneurial and changing the way you work.

If the 2008 crisis saw the decline of the leadership style of the Wolf of Wall Street in favour of a model based on trust, this crisis might see a more compassionate type of leadership emerging that is driven not only by purpose but also by the common good. Focusing exclusively on shareholder value will be a harder narrative to sell after the coronavirus crisis ends.

Businesses will be asked to behave responsibly (whatever that will have come to mean), but also to be purpose-driven. The interaction between the common good, as defined by society at each moment in time, and the purpose that a business chooses could potentially create space for new narratives, business ideas and leadership styles. This is a new opportunity to redefine the role of business in our society. We will all need to use empathy and purpose in an unprecedented way if we want to run successful businesses.

Keep your ear to the ground, because new stories are emerging that could well change the way we do business.