The New Normal, The Last Dance, and The Role of a Servant Leader

2020 has been a phenomenal year. It started off with a great deal of promise as we wrapped up 2019 and ushered in a new decade. The new year was brimming with a great deal of promise and expectations. A lot of people made commitments to developing themselves while maintaining a positive attitude. Organisations also saw themselves on the upswing as a lot of economies had predicted positive outlooks as oil prices were steady at $67 in December 2019. We also saw global trade on the upswing despite trade wars between the US and China. Brexit also came closer to becoming a reality, African economies recorded steady growth at encouraging rates, and majority of countries around the world were in peacetime.

However, we were all aware of a virus coming out of the Wuhan region in China. For most of the world, we remained oblivious to the potential veracity of the spread of this disease despite various models indicating that such was possible. For those of us in Nigeria, we carried on quite normally watching the virus spread from the far east westward at great speed, creating epicenter after epicenter. We felt somewhat prepared given that we had dealt with Ebola and had the relevant protocols in place. A somewhat obtuse perspective still lingered even though we were monitoring the rate at which this virus was spreading and even coming up with theories that our genetics and constant sunlight did not give this virus the chance to have any significant impact. That was the thinking until the first case came into Nigeria on February 27th, 2020 and then everything started slowly changing and taking a different turn in terms of our travel policy and social gatherings. A short month later, we found ourselves with larger confirmed case numbers than anyone anticipated, with more infected people “coming back” and coming into Nigeria, running away from other nations that were locking down to delay the spread and then subsequently the community spread of the virus that ensued.

What happened next were a series of events that have now brought us to where we are. The crash in oil prices effectively contracting our economy. The shutting down of schools, religious institutions, and all non-essential businesses as the major economic hubs of the nation (Lagos State, Ogun State, and the FCT) went into a Federal enforced lockdown for 4 weeks. Every single plan of 2020 was thrown out of the window with the alacrity of a stealth bomber.

Organisations are now faced with working remotely and coming up with new and innovative products and services to provide to existing and new clients. This must be done just to stay afloat and not have to buck to the pressure of making the hard decision of slashing salaries, letting people go, or even worse.

As we find ourselves in this global crisis, we find ways to keep going while adjusting to our new realities. Businesses are doing what they can, and leaders are doing what they must.

Amid all of this, ESPN and Netflix released the “The Last Dance”; A superbly produced docuseries that came out earlier than planned to take advantage of a captive audience of sports enthusiasts. It chronicles the 1997/1998 season of the NBA team, The Chicago Bulls, and the ensuing backstories leading up to the end of their dynasty that was crowned with 6 championships in 8 seasons. The main protagonist in this wonderfully put together docuseries is none other than the Greatest of All Time, Michael Jordan. What was shown beyond his basketball prowess, his competitiveness, and his absolute doggedness to win was also his leadership philosophy which has rarely been captured. In Episode 8, when asked by the interviewer if his methods made him unpopular with his teammates, Jordan responded by saying “Winning has a price and leadership has a price. So, I pulled people when they didn’t want to be pulled. I challenged people when they didn’t want to be challenged. And I earned that right because my teammates who came after me didn’t endure all the things that I endured…..You ask all my teammates, the one thing about Michael Jordan, he never asked me to do something that he didn’t do…..I wanted to win, but I wanted them to win and be a part of that as well….It Is who I am, and its how I played the game. That was my mentality. If you don’t want to play that way, don’t play that way”. The above statement demonstrates a fundamental leadership philosophy of Michael Jordan, which is further emphasised towards the end of the docuseries, where he talks about “Starting with Hope and being Present in the Moment”.

As leaders are faced with turbulent times where some businesses are on the brink of survival, we can all learn from Michael Jordan on what it takes to be a servant leader. One that leads from a deep place, a championship DNA composed of grit and rigour. Having the mindset of not allowing what you cannot control to get inside your head. Focusing on the goals that you set out for yourself and combining your thirst for achievement and success with a ruthless dedication to your craft through hard work. By doing these things, your philosophy (whether popular or not, liked or not) instantly becomes contagious because you have consistently demonstrated all that you expect out of everyone else.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a new normal that is going to require a new kind of servant leader. A leader equipped with the capacity for disruption, openness to new ideas, innovation, and the fundamental understanding that the future is now and success can only be achieved by leading from the front with the energy required to intoxicate all those that follow.

This will only happen with a psychological shift in your leadership philosophy and accepting that those that dare to win ar

Phillips Consulting Limited (pcl.) is a leading business and management consulting firm serving clients across Africa. www.phillipsconsulting.net/