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May 28, 2020

Deliberate calm & bounded optimism

LAHORE: When crises like COVID-19 pandemic strike and seem unmanageable globally, the duty of determining how to cope best with the uncertain devastation they can cause, lies with the leadership both political as well as corporate.

Such crisis create fear among the leaders and the public because they have no clue about the intensity of the disruption it could cause at national level, at personal and financial levels. The societal behavior becomes uncertain. Like plague or flu of early 20th century the behaviors of society change, and human beings shun social mix-up. After coronavirus this behavior is going to last for a long time. It might even change the way people intermingle with each other.

When the path ahead is uncertain, people turn to leaders for clarity and hope for a better future. They desire to have among their leaders a towering personality with a clear and positive vision.

A person who should inform them that all problems are solvable irrespective of the severity. They should not give their electorate false hope but be courageous enough to confront uncomfortable truths and admit what they do not know.

However, they take the uncharted territory as a challenge that has to be surmounted. They have to take the entire nation into confidence and seek cooperation of each individual. The most talked about and prudent approach in this regard came from Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands, who was both optimistic and realistic, when he told the nation that with all the uncertainties out there, one thing is absolutely clear: the challenge we face is enormous, and all 17 million of us will have to work together to overcome it. Together we will get through this difficult period. Take care of each other. “I’m counting on you” he concluded.

Then there are some leaders that react to complex problems created by a crisis like coronavirus with polarising opinions. They go for quick-fixes and give false hope though promises that cannot be delivered. They also give simplistic answers to complex problems and they try to resolve these problems through common and control type leadership. They remain cut off from masses and impose solutions that they deem fit.

‘They do not count on the people of the country’. They discourage dialogue, while regularly adopting new strategies and look for novel solutions that backfire. This is what is happening in Pakistan. We are unlikely to find a well-planned strategy to tackle the issue. It would be a miracle if we come out of the crisis by chance.

In such crises the leaders should act with deliberate calm and bounded optimism unfortunately these traits are absent in our political leadership. Each one whether in ruling party or in opposition is playing politics in coronavirus crisis. None of them is trained to work in a stressful situation and it is impossible for them to rise to the occasion under the stress triggered by the pandemic.

They need to practice intentional integrative practice that would tune the leadership to shift from viewing challenge not as roadblocks but as problems that has to be solved, through prudent leaning process.

With integrative awareness the leaders would consider stress as opportunity to pause and reflect before acting.

Pakistan’s top leader must make a compulsive choice to practice a calm state of mind. His response to many queries by media depicts his lack of calmness and highlights his agitated nature. leaders must make a deliberate choice to practice a calm state of mind. He should step back from high-stake situation and choose how to respond prudently, rather than reacting instinctively.

We all know that the situation is precarious, and future is uncertain. Our leaders need to reframe the looming threat as an opportunity for learning and innovation. It will turn the situation of despair into one of hope and possibility. Our leaders need to act with compassion and acceptance and instill the same in others. It is an essential trait of leaders who want to be deliberately calm.

Even in corporate sector it is essential to project confidence that the organisation will find its way through the crisis but also show that higher management recognises its severity.

In downturns the cuts should be higher for higher posts and less for low grades. The managements should shift from luxury to austerity. The small cars up to 1300cc should replace the luxury cars. The rich should go for inexpensive healthy foods. The recovery would be much faster this way.