• The Centre for Inclusive Leadership

Two Pandemics, a Paradigm Shift and a Panacea…



Having been in lockdown since 23rd March and only now beginning to think about the tentative-easing of restrictions, it is hard to imagine that it was only as recently as 2014 that the request for flexible working was extended to all UK employees. Harder still to realise that it was only three-years earlier in Hannover Germany that the signal was given that we were about to enter into a new era. A new dawn birthed in the technological age – it was called industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution. How would it be characterised…? I think in this way: no longer would work be somewhere we go henceforth it would be what we do.

Whilst we may have moved from a thing called the Internet to the Internet of Things (IoT) many organisations have been slow, if not reluctant to fully embrace agile working. Charles Handy’s description of places of employment being “day-time houses” pervaded in a world where the high-density office space is designed with a you’ll-never-need-to-leave-the-building intention and the city dwellers live in bedroom communities.

But that was pre-COVID-19. We have been catapulted into the future now. Covid-19 not only induced the birth of telecommuting, it has cut the umbilical cord freeing the knowledge-worker from the womb of the workplace. Have laptop, why travel? The city-dwellers may yet abandon the cities in search of a quality of life and disposable income. Everyone has been forced to change their company practices, upending our social and work norms. The believers, such as Jack Dorsey have already told his 5000 employees at Twitter that they never have to come back to the office if they don’t want to. Facebook, Amazon and Google have advised staff not to expect to come back in 2020.

Working from home solves one problem but it also gives rise to others. Imagine, for example the anxiety-levels and sense of creeping guilt for those employees who work for companies who have a culture of presenteeism – for them, the fear of not being perceived as working when they are at home is that they don’t stop working at home and work becomes all pervasive. For inclusive companies there will be concern that those who must now be apart, still feel that they are a part.

This is a paradigm shift that history will attribute to the Covid-19 pandemic. Covid will be seen as the catalyst, but I think that the fight against another pandemic, racism, which has sparked such a demand for change in the wake of George Floyd’s killing will come to be seen as the midwife that will usher in a period of radical reimagining and rebirth.

In a recent article, entitled Waiting to Exhale, I suggested that COVID-19 and Floyd represent a moment of quantum entanglement. These events are now connected so that actions performed on one affect the other, even when separated by great distances.

Beyond any doubt we as a people have a momentous choice to make. We must decide what sort of people we want to be as we emerge from these crises. How we do will, I believe depend on our ability to manage a third crisis: A leadership crisis. There are far too many examples of people being over-managed and under-led. In the new world, followers determine how successful the leader will be. If leadership is to have a future, then we will need a leadership renewal. Our future leaders will be those who can lead the way by demonstrating loving leadership. In a world in which employees will need to be seen as volunteers, successful leaders will be those who have a sure supply of the PPE of inclusive leadership: Principles not pragmatism, People before Profit and most of all Equity not Exclusion.

We can anticipate that after predicted waves there will be a fourth wave which will be evidenced by emotional trauma, mental illness, economic injury and burnout. We will need to heal if we are to thrive.

Exclusion is a dis-ease. It is the feeling that lets us know we don’t belong. Inclusion is a panacea. It is the remedy to many if not most of our ills.

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation described Sir Tim Berners-Lee who is the founder of the World Wide Web as “the Martin Luther King of our new digital world” what we need now is a slew of Martin Luther Kings of Inclusive Leadership. We cannot wait for you – the future is now. If we are to succeed in the post Covid/Floyd world then we will need to envision a truly inclusive society one that has structures and a culture that works for all and not just some. One in which we all feel that we “fit” and can belong. That is true ordinarily, but that need is all the more heightened in a crisis. People want to be confident that they are connected in relationships and can participate in groups in ways that give them meaning, security, and positive prospects.

Who knows maybe you are one of those MLKs. For me this is a moment when with clairvoyant insight I can see what we are in the world for. I can see that we have come to a crossroads – we are standing on the way of liberation. Leadership will be about showing the way, not getting in the way… As Mordecai famously said to Esther, “And who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

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