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The Future of Work | Working the Future
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Working the Future blog: our latest insights and future of work sensemaking


2020-06-02 14:14

Cathryn Barnard



As the pandemic takes its toll on the global economy, it’s becoming clear that an entirely new style of leadership is required...


Ineke Botter has led an unusual life. For over thirty years, she’s held CEO and board-level roles in the mobile telecommunications industry, travelling the world to oversee the build, and re-build, of communications networks.


Her work has taken her to 16 countries, across four continents, and she’s experienced a vast range of cultures, commercial challenges and often, life-threatening situations.


She’s led organisations in warzones, in the aftermath of natural disasters, and in the rebuilding of critical national infrastructure. Working in war-torn Kosovo, Lebanon during the Israel-Hezbollah war and Haiti after the 2010 earthquake - these were extreme and hostile environments, and not for the faint-hearted.


I’ve worked for Ineke twice. The first time, in the late 1990s, I set up centralised hiring processes for a start-up mobile network operator in Switzerland. Then, in the early 2000s, Ineke re-hired me to set up an HR function for a new mobile network licence holder in Sweden. I was always proud to be on her team, and she’s always been a positive role-model for me. She’s been on some real adventures and has always willingly shared lessons learned along the way.


Since lockdown, there’s been intense focus on leadership. Internationally, we’ve seen some fantastic examples of leadership, and in equal measure, some dismal ones.


As the pandemic and enforced social distancing take their toll on the global economy, it’s becoming clear the style of leadership required for market uncertainty differs significantly from the leadership approaches that work when times are good.


We wanted to explore this with someone who’s experienced crisis leadership – who’s led under conditions of extreme duress. Learning from someone who’s led people through life-threatening situations enables us to see the human skills required to embed trust, resilience, and commitment to outcomes.


Here’s what Ineke told us.


Ineke - what, in your experience, are the essential ingredients of good leadership?

Good leaders have a clear and concise vision of where they want to go; a vision that they share with other stakeholders, especially employees. Clear vision allows leaders to develop their strategy and implementation plan.


Good leaders respect and listen to the people who support them, taking all expert opinions into account and then firming up plans accordingly. A good leader will then act with decisiveness and communicate clearly, so people and teams understand which path to walk. Good leaders won’t often deviate from the plan, but demonstrate flexibility to allow for necessary amendments - especially if forced by external factors - and communicate those accordingly.


How must leadership style differ in times of crisis?

Leaders who are used to ‘challenging situations’ are prepared. Preparation of a robust disaster plan is key.


If you operate in dangerous environments, you need to physically rehearse certain parts of the plan. For example, emergency evacuation of the organisational premises via safe escape routes. Always ensure you have standard, mapped processes, and more critically, back-up plans.


It’s been my experience that people forget normal routines in traumatic situations. For example, after the 2006 war in Lebanon, we were confronted with tens of millions of dollars of network damage. The more surprising damage however was workforce amnesia. Staff had endured continuous bombing for over a month and, as a result, had forgotten what their day-to-day tasks were, or what project they’d been working on.


Having processes and standards in place allowed people to revert to these normal routines. Reverting to ‘normal’ is often more difficult than restoring physical sites.


Also, it’s a must to have an up-to-date and robust communication plan in place. It’s essential to be able to reach everyone, at a moment’s notice. Make sure your primary channel of communication has a back-up alternative to facilitate this.


Finally, what do you believe people look for from leaders, in crisis situations?

Leaders have a responsibility to assess the level of threat immediately, and to then decide which organisational roles are critical for business continuity. It’s dangerous to have too many people, who may lack experience, in the mix. Send them home if their work isn’t crucial. Keep them on pay-roll however - this ensures a motivated workforce is ready to return once things settle down.


Always stay calm and listen to your experts. Gather data, adapt accordingly, and communicate what’s necessary. Remember - if you sneeze, the whole organisation gets ill – leadership behaviour has far-reaching impact. If you panic, everyone becomes lost. So, don’t exaggerate. Keep to fact-based information - which is checked and doubled checked - before taking action.


As leader, you’re the role-model for the organisation - so be a strong and empathic one, someone people can and will trust.



Few can imagine what it feels like to lead others when your own life is in danger. What’s apparent from chatting with Ineke however, is that people-centred leadership is paramount.


Empathy – recognising the emotional toil that uncertainty inflicts on others; self-awareness – being able to regulate one’s own behaviour, knowing that it sets the tone for others; and personal resilience – the ability to keep going, when everything looks impossible. These core EQ strengths shape the nature of internal communication – which in turn critically influences how team-members respond to crisis situations.


Of course, it’s perhaps unreasonable to liken the crisis situations Ineke has faced to the socio-economic challenges the pandemic has introduced. Yet, already we’re glimpsing a snapshot of the trauma many have suffered in isolation, because of Coronavirus.


As we face forward, the case for emotionally intelligent leadership has never been clearer cut.




Today, Ineke provides management services to support senior executives wherever they face change or challenge, in order to minimise risk and maximise success. If you’d like to contact her, or learn more about 21st Century leadership competencies, please do drop us a line.


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Looking to dive deeper into some of the areas covered in this blog post? Check out our Recruitment and Retention and Foresight Focus reports and products.

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