How to lead in volatile times – including when war breaks out in Europe

21 Apr 2022


Any successful business will depend on people, processes and technology, and the Ukraine invasion has emphasised which of the three is truly the most important – so leaders must act accordingly.

We are now over a month into the Ukraine invasion, and it remains very much at the forefront of leaders’ minds. Recent Gartner research found that 70% of workers “want their employer to take a stance” on social issues. And in March 2021, 68% of the 3,000 employees surveyed by Gartner said they would consider quitting their current job to work with an organisation with a stronger viewpoint on the social issues that matter most to them. So how does a leader lead in volatile times?

I’ll come back to attempt to answer that puzzler shortly. However, on a more practical level, Russia’s “special military operation” on their neighbour’s land is having – and will continue to have – a significant impact on the global supply chain and costs. The price of commodities will increase while availability will go in the opposite direction. It’s a massive challenge for leaders to understand the short- and long-term implications of this situation in terms of pricing issues, moving sources of supply, all while being mindful of those directly affected by the war.

Many people lost their livelihood in Ukraine overnight, and sanctions on Russia are starting to bite. As leaders, we can’t lose sight of the fact that the conflict truly impacts individuals, and it’s down to businesses to understand, cope, and help with solutions. How will what’s happening in Ukraine factor into future decision-making? One thing is for sure: if, as a leader, you do want to make a stand – for example, by offering support to employees to take in refugees – you have to follow through with it. Virtue signalling and a lack of authenticity will be obvious.


Striking a balance

There is a tricky balance to strike, but leaders have to show that they are considering both individuals and business outcomes. The starting point has to be mapping out what the volatility is causing – and likely to cause – from an import and export perspective. 

Again, at the heart of all of that, though, is people. Every successful business will say that people are its most important asset in one way or another. And it’s at moments like this that has to come through. It’s a moral maze for businesses that operate in Russia, have Russian clients, or even Russian staff. 

It’s critical to take a moment and model potential outcomes when volatility strikes. After two years of coping with the pandemic fallout, one would hope that leaders and businesses would be better prepared for crises. But this is quite a niche scenario with evolving challenges; therefore, taking stock and reviewing the situation, plus working with trusted ecosystem partners, is vital to building in more foresight.

The next wave of disruption will cascade down onto organisations sooner rather than later. That’s why those companies that implement a business process with rolling horizons, annualised planning, technology-powered improved visibility across the supply chain, and the leadership group being aligned around one set of numbers will improve decision-making. 

It all comes back to people, processes, and technology – and the Ukraine situation clarifies which of those three is most important if anyone needed reminding.

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