It is often said that parents need another pair of eyes in the back of their head to be able to watch their children at all times.
In that case, leaders in the corona age probably need three pairs of eyes.
They need one pair of eyes to observe and guide others as they struggle to accept, adjust and perform in this bizarre “Now Normal” professional world of business continuity plans, working from home and an endless stream of tele-conferences.
And they need another pair of eyes to look back at the “Old Normal” so that they can learn from the past and avoid reinventing the wheel or repeating the same mistakes, such as waiting too long to restructure operations and lay off staff. Or the opposite: going too far too fast.
And like the Greek God Janus, they need yet another pair of eyes to focus on the “New Normal” in the future.
They must constantly ask themselves “what if?”. What if I do this? What if we don’t do this? What will be the longer-term repercussions of the tough decisions and actions that I am taking now?
And more importantly, they must begin to envision what the Post-Corona World will look like even though it will probably not begin formally until a reliable, effective vaccine is discovered, approved and widely distributed in about a year’s time or more.
It is very easy to create a rather bleak vision of the “New Normal”.
Abigail Nzamba Mavioga - an emerging Gabonese leader in the field of Global Defense and Security here in Kigali - warns: “It would be a little Utopian to think that this virus, which has paralysed the planet, will not have long-term effects on the world economy.»
She also predicts greater health disparities, new waves of highly lethal, rapidly evolving pandemics and a changing balance of power around the world, concluding : « the world will bring out more of the negative inclinations of man in its darkest version … each taking care of his well-being at the expense of his neighbor. »
It is a bit harder but not impossible to paint a rosier picture of the “New Normal”.
This would be a world in which political leaders would move away from the inward-looking, nativist policies that have marked the last five or 10 years in many countries and instead they would build on the interdependency, trust and collaboration that has been developed during the Corona crisis between many nations and multilateral organizations, such as the World Health Organization.
While a return towards unfettered globalization, free movement and free trade are unlikely, global leaders could hopefully partner more closely to limit military opportunism and trade tariffs and to try to reduce the social and economic disparities that underlie the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, especially Poverty (1), Hunger (2), Quality Education (4), Gender Equality (5), Climate Action (13), Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (16).
And instead of “War Games”, armies of national health experts would come together to conduct “Cure Games” to prepare for the next global bio-medical assault from a laboratory, a wild animal or a rogue nation.
In all probability, the “New Normal” will fall somewhere between these two extremes and individual leaders must prepare for a wide range of possibilities with both realism and agility. Both for themselves and for those they serve (more on this in the next column).
All we know for sure is that we are not returning to the “Old Normal”, which may not be a bad thing.
In a powerful quotation that has been wrongly attributed to US research professor Brene Brown, the US poet and activist Sonya Renee Taylor says quite bluntly: "We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our Pre-Corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”
And English novelist Dame Margaret Drabble’s often cited quotation now seems more appropriate than ever: “When nothing is sure, everything is possible.”
The next column will focus on how individual leaders can prepare themselves and others for this uncertain but promising “New Normal”.
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The views expressed in this column are those of the writer.