Want to pivot your business outcomes? Pivot your leaders’ thinking

Want to pivot your business outcomes? Pivot your leaders’ thinking

Pandemic-era disruption compels everyone to make a commitment to genuine change

When the disruption of Covid first struck, I became somewhat of a student of how businesses were making changes. There were some great stories, and I studied them to help my business and give my people ideas about things they could try. I also shared the stories with the companies and people I talked to.

I learned a lot from these stories. What stood out the most was that the best results occurred when leaders truly pivoted their thinking. Carrying on under a veneer of “change talk” never worked. The results came from really committing to something new.

Even to this day, these approaches carry some great lessons for the future of business.

For example, in my organisation, I have a lot of new sales staff. I have young, bright, energetic and enthusiastic people. Unfortunately, many struggled due to a lack of experience and support in a difficult period. I had to pivot the thinking of my salespeople from just being goal-getters, to being better servant-leaders for new and incumbent people. My consultants changed from being subject matter experts to being part of the “team” and helping in many ways. 

Now each business is different, but outcomes only improved when the thinking of the formal and informal leaders shifted to meet the new situation and opportunity.

The crisis hit us all, but it did not hit us all equally or hit us in the same way. However, there are some interesting patterns we can see in organisations “winning” at present. These include having their leaders shift from approaching business as usual to doing some or all of the following:

  • Using increased foresight for a changing future;
  • Committing to faster innovation and agility;
  • Rethinking resource allocation and usage;
  • Imagining new ways of meeting new customer needs;
  • Finding new ways of leading employees.

Do all organisations need to consider a pivot in their leadership thinking (and doing)? I believe so.

Sure, some organisations were in the right place at the right time. Moderna, for example went from a unicorn to a superpower. But now as the situation alters, its leaders are looking at new approaches as its share price has dropped by 50%. It will be interesting to see how they pivot.

Leaders of some online marketplaces thought of new ways to win amid the disruption and saw their revenues and share prices soar, but there are many other examples, from small restaurants and startups to global giants like Nestle and Samsung.

And those who didn’t? NPC International went from the largest franchisee of Pizza Hut restaurants to bankruptcy, while the retail giant JC Penney suffered a similar fate after almost 120 years of trading. A single pivot may not have saved these companies, but a failure of leadership to shift quickly and effectively certainly did not help.

So where to start if you feel a change in leadership thinking (at all levels) might help? As I said, there is no one answer. But I would like to share some of my observations. Have leaders’ thinking focus on:

People-based thinking and people-based solutions: Understand what people need. How they need to be supported now, and how they need to be served. This is key to internal and external innovation for results.

Supporting capability building: It is unavoidable, the world has changed, and so have the demands on your people. Although leadership change in thinking is essential, better results come from changes in capability throughout the organisation. If you want them to do things differently and better, equip them to do so. After all, your leaders cannot do it all themselves.

Customising to the context: One Size Does Not Fit All. So, instead of coming up with a one-size-fits-all answer, give teams and leaders autonomy to think about making it work.

For leaders of leaders in this position, I can only share what has worked for me in my own relatively small company, and the organisations I have studied and worked with.

Make your leaders understand that the old way of doing things won’t work anymore. This is essential because until you do, nothing will truly change. Leaders should also not assume other leaders understand the new requirements also. I personally saw many leaders come unstuck because of this. Help them understand the need, not just the request. Help them see and buy into the why.

Also, learn to lead this from a position of hope and opportunity. The days of fear-based change leadership (or any other kind) are gone. Your leaders and people deserve better. They will not stand for it. So, make sure your leaders also understand this.

You need your leaders to help your wider team, not drive them out because they misunderstand the reason and requirement. As I mentioned many of my leaders had to become better servants, not better motivators.

Have your leaders promote empathy and understanding, and a focus on relationships. Many of the best leadership pivots happen when leaders focused on understanding and helped staff bring out their ideas and innovations. These were based on improved relationships.

Leaders (even in a stressful crisis) got closer to their people. Even when pressed for numbers, it was better relationships and interactions that struck gold. More distant leadership, especially in a virtual and more isolated world wasn’t the answer. Get your leaders to pivot how they use their time for the best effects.


Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC — Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at arinya_t@seasiacenter.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/arinya-talerngsri-53b81aa. Talk to us about how SEAC can help your business during times of uncertainty at https://forms.gle/wf8upGdmwprxC6Ey9


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