Beyond the current crisis: UBC Sauder Executive Education webinar series examines leadership in a dramatically different business landscape

Posted 2020-05-13
Businesses are facing unprecedented challenges amid the COVID-19 situation, forcing leaders to reshape or reinvent their operations. A recent series of free webinars provided great insights on how business leaders can rise to the occasion and excel in times of crisis, now and in the future.

With curtailed or shuttered operations, remote working arrangements, and having to ensure interactions with employees, clients and stakeholders remain safe in times of physical distancing, businesses of every stripe are scrambling to navigate the challenges associated with COVID-19. Strong leadership at every level remains crucial to not just overcome the current crisis, but also build a stronger foundation for the future.

With this in mind, UBC Sauder Executive Education created a series of interactive webinars, covering everything from leading with empathy and succeeding in a virtual world to understanding the social, political and economic implications of the ongoing global outbreak. During the webinars, UBC Sauder faculty members and industry experts share their perspectives and facilitate audience discussions.


No business as usual


Adel Gamar, UBC Sauder Executive Education instructor and Co-founder & CEO, Gamar Leadership Group

During the first webinar of the ongoing series, UBC Sauder Executive Education instructor Adel Gamar told participants: “Leadership is an exercise that one does. There’s no perfection, it is a process of learning.”

In conversation with Bridgitte Anderson, CEO of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, Gamar emphasized that the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 situation requires leadership that is adaptive in the face of change instead of treating it as another technical challenge that can be solved with a business as usual mentality. “There just aren’t ready-made answers,” he says.

Instead, Gamar said leaders should look at problems systemically, do their best to mitigate losses, and always strive to instill inspiration and hope in their teams so they remain engaged and productive in spite of the disequilibrium.

“Resilience is not an end goal, resilience is a process,” Gamar says. “That process requires new learning, it requires bringing in allies within the organization to have a conversation around what do we need to keep, what do we need to discard, and what would the future look like given this new reality.”


Effective communication, on and off screen

When COVID-19 forced teams to retreat to their homes and learn how to work remotely, it became apparent that the inability to meet in person could present communication challenges. UBC Sauder’s Executive Education team invited two experts in leadership communications to create webinars that offered strategies on how to lead in a crisis, especially when teams are stuck at home.

Margo Gouley, director of program development, The Humphrey Group

“These days, virtual communication is on everybody’s minds,” says Margo Gouley, director of program development for The Humphrey Group. “The skills that make a good virtual leader are skills that all leaders need to have, especially when we consider the future of work.”

According to Gouley, those skills include empathy and authenticity combined with robust technological skills.

Justyna Poray-Wybranowska, program development associate, The Humphrey Group

Justyna Poray-Wybranowska, program development associate for The Humphrey Group, added that virtual leadership requires leaders to step up and “inspire an audience to act on a vision.”

Poray-Wybranowska believes positive yet realistic framing can help teams stay motivated, especially amid an overload of negative information. “Even when we are facing hard times, we can acknowledge that and still couch it in a conviction that’s positive.”


Building a sustainable future

Although COVID-19 has been a monumental challenge with wide-ranging effects, it won’t be the last crisis our social, political and economic systems face. This is the opinion of Justin Bull, leader of UBC Sauder’s Ethics and Sustainability Group. He told his audience that now more than ever, sustainability should be top of mind for business leaders and policymakers.

Justin Bull, leader of UBC Sauder’s Ethics and Sustainability Group

“If we don’t start thinking about sustainability now, we’re just setting ourselves up for future crises,” Bull says. “Sustainability has so much to teach us, not just about how to navigate this crisis, but how to mitigate and perhaps reduce the likelihood of similar crises in the future.”

Analyzing the disruptive impacts of COVID-19 on global markets, supply chains and our way of life, Bull argues that the current crisis offers a path towards a better, more sustainable future.

“I don’t want to pretend that there aren’t difficult things happening right now, but I do want to put those aside for a moment,” Bull says. “I think we can afford to take a step back and engage our brains, engage our curiosity, engage our imaginations and think about what might be on the other side of this currently enormous and daunting challenge.”

“What reality of COVID do you want to hold on to? What part of it is good? What’s gotten better?”

Bull challenged his webinar listeners to reflect on these questions and start imagining ways in which society can make changes to become more sustainable rather than reverting back to business as usual.

To view these webinars and additional business leadership virtual events, visit UBC Sauder Executive Education.