THE Covid-19 crisis has literally thrown individuals and corporates into a state of disaster, panic and confusion.
The crisis caught many a leader unawares and has thrown business into turmoil. Coping with a crisis of this magnitude requires grit and authentic leadership to save lives and organisations from the catastrophic effects.
Robert Mandeya (RM) caught up with Munyaradzi Gwatidzo (MG, pictured), founder and chief executive officer of Astro Tech Group, to find out how he is handling this situation and his views on how organisations can survive the crisis. Below are excerpts of the interview:
RM: How are you taking the 21-day lockdown?
MG: The 21-day lockdown is a big stress to us as employers as it entails zero revenue but at the end of the month you have to pay your fixed expenses. It is really a traumatic time for me, but at the same time we are faced with a global pandemic, which is beyond anyone’s control and the lockdown could be the best possible way to mitigate the effects of the virus.
RM: What is the impact of this crisis on business?
MG: Where a stringent policy response is deemed necessary, business will inevitably be impacted, with both near-term effects and less-expected longer-run consequences. Overall, Zimbabwe’s gross domestic product will significantly drop this year. This is also as a result of our high dependency on China — be that in the form of trade, tourism or investment.
RM: How is your business coping with this crisis?
GM: We have literally gone virtual at the moment and we are carrying out most of our meetings through virtual platforms such as Zoom and Skype. However, this is not very easy given the intermittent connectivity challenges which might at times disrupt work.
RM: What skill can be applied to navigate through this disaster?
GM: For those in leadership, particularly founding executives like myself, I would encourage psychological pivoting as coping mechanisms.
RM: Explain to us what psychological pivoting is all about in the context of the Covid-19 crisis.
GM: The ability to pivot, to course correct, is an integral component of psychological wellness. It’s to re-examine the meaning of failure, disappointment, loss, and self-doubt. It’s the ability to change our mind, to change our behaviour. This is a critical component to our ability to adapt and adjust to a crisis like the pandemic.
This concept is at the heart of what psychologists refer to as resilience. Not least in this notion is the idea of emotional agility and grit and you have the making of something profound.
RM: How can executives or organisational leadership apply psychological pivoting in mitigating the impact of Covid-19 on their business?
MG: By realising that your own psychology will make or break your company. It’s all in your mind. This may sound like a cliché but, like many cliches, it’s true. Tending to the founder’s psychology is one of the things people don’t talk about except in private conversations with trusted mentors or co-founders.
During the darkest days, a founder needs to seek advice and time with the people that care about her or him the most and to establish a firm grip on their own mind. This, in turn, gives your employees, your investors, and your customers confidence that everything is going to work out.
RM: What does it take for one to master the skill of psychological pivoting?
GM: It entails going through counseling and education on how to handle crisis. It’s a skill which has to be learnt and needs consistent support form support groups or psychologists.
RM: Why is it necessary for executives or any member of the organisation to acquire psychological pivoting, particularly in this time of crisis?
GM: Executives are the ones that provide direction and leadership. In times like these everyone will be looking up to the leadership, so it’s important for the executive to develop a structured process to transition the company out of this crisis moment.
RM: Have you ever applied psychological pivoting at any point in your business experience?
GM: Yes, I have. As mentioned above, I have gone through two company closures because of financial distress and I had to use this skill to remain focussed and to pick up the broken pieces.
RM: How else would you advise executives in distress on how they can bounce back in business after Covid-19?
GM: The ultimate mind shift is to see reality but still believe. Great executives can fully understand the reality of their situations and still maintain enthusiasm. I always managed to do this even though it was beyond hope. At my first company, the partners took away the company from me and I had to start from zero. We moved, through our grief psychology, into creativity and got on with it. It worked out. We grew to 100 employees and then started to sell millions of devices after we successfully made it through the company loss. All of this was made possible by the mental shifts I and my co-founders were able to make — thanks in large part to my mentors, co-founders and my wife’s support.
I recommitted to our mission. Those periods, while hard, were some of the most rewarding of my life. A crisis is a time that wakes you up and gives you the white space to create something unique and amazing.
Robert Mandeya is an executive leadership coach, trainer in human capital development and corporate education, a certified leadership and professional development practitioner and founder of LiRD. —firstname.lastname@example.org/www.lird.co.zw.