Post-pandemic leadership, positivity and innovation

29 Jun 2021

Post-pandemic leadership, positivity and innovation

After a year of crisis-management, leaders are ready to be energised and inspired again. Dr André de Barros Teixeira, author of The H(uman)MBA, shares wisdom from his storied career as an executive, consultant, entrepreneur and board member on six continents.

As told to David Webber, Senior Partner, Brussels.

The globally mobile leader has often been seen by their organization as both missionary and mercenary. They were meant to ‘spread the gospel’, so to speak, while they were away and then return to headquarters with that much-praised international experience.

We have seen this change over the last few decades, where now there are other motivations for expatriation. Personally, I have always jumped at international assignments, but I tried not to return to headquarters. I saw international mobility as a life choice—an opportunity to explore and discover—rather than just a job contingency. Very early in my career I developed an interest in cultural diversity and our common humanity. From awareness of diversity, I moved to tolerance and then to celebration. As a result, my leadership style is grounded in diversity, resilience, and sustainability.

My approach to innovation combines humanistic management principles (which emphasize the centrality of human beings, ethical reflection, and the involvement of all parties concerned) with a focus on our amazing capability to generate ideas.

Most innovation systems, particularly in large enterprises, suffer from an excessive focus on process rather than ideas. Idea-centric innovation allows ideas to be just that, ideas.

Ideas don’t need to be feasible to begin with. They just need to be intriguing. Adding a humanistic approach gives a human touch to the early stages of idea generation, enrichment, and selection, long before you start shaping the concept and developing the project, which absolutely needs to be feasible.

Creating a (remote) culture of innovation

One of the positive aspects of remote working is the instant accessibility and ease of involving many players in the process. You need the experts, but as far as the breadth of ideas is concerned, expertise can be a straitjacket that limits our ability to find intriguing ideas. Online working makes collaborating with many people easy no matter where they are.

Having said that, creating a culture of innovation requires that quintessentially human element – the laughter, the body language, the informal conversations at the coffee machine, the impromptu lunch discussions.

Building any culture in two dimensions on a screen is difficult. Still, as technology evolves, making the experience more real, the gap between the virtual and warm-body offices will narrow.

Still, we shouldn’t expect that a virtual office environment will be able to duplicate our previous office routines. And creating new routines won’t happen overnight – it’s almost like learning to play an instrument or a new language. The key for me has been adding in a healthy dose of meditation and reflection into my day. These tools have served both as an entry ticket and an exit pass from the chores of the virtual day.

Staying curious

To stay inspired and curious and overcome a rut, try to minimize distractions.

We are living in the ‘Age of Interruption’, where both our attention spans and our ability to focus on one thing have been severely curtailed. In addition, ‘information’ and ‘knowledge’ are being marketed as if they are the same product, and they’re not.

If you find yourself in a rut, remember that digging deep into a single topic is as important as pursuing horizontal breadth. There’s nothing wrong with tunnel vision when you dig many tunnels. When you have eyes like a fly with many different facets, you become more alert to opportunities.

We must identify with no hesitation the areas where we need to improve our knowledge and areas where we want to know more, and humbly engage with them as a first-time learner. As a leader, be wary of sycophants who will marvel at anything you say, giving you a false impression that you possess all knowledge whenever you produce a snippet of information.

Managing through failure and maintaining positivity

One of the best pieces of advice I received early on in my career was to learn from my successes as well as my mistakes. Take lessons from battles you lost in wars that you won, and, conversely, from battles you won in wars that you lost.

Success and failure in most cases go hand in hand. Learning from both is essential in order to deal with real failure.

To maintain a positive outlook in the face of adversity, you must begin by accepting there is adversity in front of you, it may last longer than you wish, and you do not have control over everything.

In addition, we can think about history to put concepts like ‘remoteness’ into perspective. At the peak of the Roman Empire, it would take a Roman general at least two years to leave Rome, conquer new territory, and return. That gives new meaning to ‘working remotely’. And despite that adversity and remoteness they created an empire.

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