“When you’re immersed in lockdown, everywhere you look, the world is experiencing the same thing. There is a sense of solidarity. But then a portion of the world moves on from that to a different version and its stories are different. Do you still have this feeling of global solidarity and connection?”
In our sixth round of conversations some of our participants pondered the value of making room for others to lead. We are in a long crisis. Leaders’ ability to respond decisively and swiftly in the early phases has been shown everywhere to be critical to establishing public and stakeholder trust. Now, as we settle in to a more complex, multi-faceted phase, it can be helpful for all concerned if a wider spectrum of team members steps up to help hold the reins. Having experienced that strong urge to lean forward and lead from the front, this week our participants talked of the importance of taking a step back.
Examples came from both corporations and cities. One corporate leader shared how recognising when to let others lead and ensuring they felt empowered to do so has been an important part of their mission over the past months. And with letting others lead comes letting go. A Chief Resilience Officer, referring to transferring responsibility for a critical testing programme they’d set up from scratch to a higher tier of government to manage, added: “My strong temptation is to devote some energy to helping them make a success of it. But there is other work I need to focus on. It is important for me to trust and let go.” Followed by: “If you are really about getting the work done, you don’t have to get the praise.”
When investing in letting go and sharing responsibilities, it is rewarding to see others stepping up to the challenge. One Chief Resilience Officer praised the work done by local NGOs who have deep relationships with communities on the ground. The partnership arrangements formed between government and NGOs prior to the pandemic are proving instrumental during the crisis, as well-founded NGOs are usually more agile and responsive on the ground than government is able to be.
Some hard dilemmas surfaced around the mounting fiscal challenges many nations and cities are facing. Whereas some development banks have shown willingness to delay interest rate payments for the next months, they realise that if they do this their bond rating will probably be downgraded regardless, making it more expensive to borrow from them in the future.
Moreover, is funding support based on debt an adequate way to fight the fiscal battle? Take Small Island Developing States, for example. They’ve been painfully aware for many years of the costs they face in adapting to climate change and rising sea levels, so are already nervous of taking on any more debt. “Now layer a health crisis on top of that,” observed one of our participants, “and an economic collapse from the loss of tourism – what does that mean for recovery?” In our big cities the picture is not much different. As one of our Chief Resilience Officers put it, “We have lost a lot of revenue already over the hard lockdown period, yet we have big expenditures that we’re expected to lay out. This is focusing our minds on how sustainable that is. Those are the very hard realities of management.”