In order to avoid the negative effects of the pandemic, leaders should learn to find balance and perspective. Lack of clarity, vision and outlook; fear and anxiety; knee-jerk reactions; massive drops in income; confusion and a feeling of being overwhelmed are amongst the main personal and professional challenges, says Tarek Anwar, CEO of FinVelo and a trustee for UK charity Astriid. As a coach and mentor to business leaders, Tarek’s purpose is to help others unlock their own potential.
In this exclusive interview, he shares his advice on what leaders can do to overcome the challenges of the pandemic and talks about his role as a trustee at Astriid.
Through your company FinVelo, you work with many senior leaders as a coach, mentor, and business advisor. What have been some of the challenges your clients have faced during the pandemic and how have they overcome these?
Tarek Anwar: Lack of clarity/vision/outlook; fear; anxiety; knee-jerk reactions; massive drops in income; confusion and a feeling of being overwhelmed are amongst the main personal and professional challenges. These are all very serious and unfortunately very common during the pandemic. Focusing on the individual aspects, we jointly created multiple strategies.
Mental and physical well-being was and still is, a key starting point in my opinion. Regular meditation; breathing; gratitude; compassion; music; walks/cycling in nature; a safe place/person to talk with; even humour, all helped re-establish a calmer perspective. Making conscious choices about what to engage in or respond to, rather than just reacting, also has helped many individuals. All these and many other practises, can be behavioural, and can sometimes be learned through neuro-plasticity based exercises.
These allowed many leaders to rebalance themselves and I believe emerge stronger than before. Many were calmer, more compassionate, more humane, had clarity on their priorities, were less judgemental, and some even found some inner wisdom. Naturally, these individuals as leaders had an impact on their surroundings – companies, families, communities, friends and even neighbours.
What challenges have you identified, in your role at FinVelo, for businesses during and the pandemic? What do you expect to be the challenges moving forward?
Tarek Anwar: In my view, there are three “Big Bad Wolves” (my apologies to the wolves. We have destroyed their habitat. No animals were hurt in this particular visual illustration) at the door:
- The lack of a blue-print or of a tried and tested map/path.
- The rate of change is unfolding so rapidly that traditional patterns of evolution will not cut it for many.
- There are existential/survival challenges in many industries.
Hence a few “Big” questions, to which I do not know the answers but that I think are worth thinking about
- Narrow thinking – Are we “programmed” to think in a certain way – and as such can’t see the paths ahead?
- Resilience & Agility – Are we adaptable and resilient enough, to get up and dust off ourselves, maybe change course and move forward again and again?
- Skills – do we know what types and volumes of skills are needed going forward? And do we have the capacity to create them?
What skills do business leaders need in order to navigate the post-pandemic reality and how can they develop these?
Tarek Anwar: I believe a few things are “core” right now such as Inclusion, Courage, Calm and Compassion (IC3).
And by far the most important in my view is Inclusion. Nobody has all the answers. An inclusive leader will create a culture of diversity and equality. This diversity of thought, views and perspective – all equal in importance, will drive sustainable growth in my opinion. Not just survival, but businesses and societies that will thrive sustainably and become resilient.
Researchers have found that companies that have strong partnerships with charities can do better in business too, as employees are generally more engaged and motivated in their work. How can leaders invest in strong CSR programmes post-pandemic?
Tarek Anwar: This is just my personal opinion. Sometimes, not always, but sometimes, when we put labels on “things” or “people”, we perhaps unintentionally dehumanise them. We lose the depth of their true value. The term CSR can do that. Why isn’t this a natural cultural behaviour in an organisation? That if you operate in a community, you serve it in its entirety. It is a valuable part of your eco-system. An employee, a manager, a supplier, a buyer, a shareholder, all have families, friends and carers who look after someone else. So why wouldn’t that be core to an organisation? Just as lighting, heating, ventilation, health & safety for employees, is key to an organisation, so should community care. Think of how workplace conditions have changed since the Victorian era.
I believe that measuring the success of the care that certain organisations provide to society will become more important, as it will impact their share price. It will impact whether people want to work there. It will impact whether suppliers want to be in their supply chain, or whether buyers will want to buy from them. This is already happening in many spheres – the environmental impact a company has, profoundly affects the behaviour of consumers, investors and financiers. I believe it will be a clear strategic imperative to move beyond lip service on “CSR”.
How did you hear about Astriid and what motivated you to become a trustee?
Tarek Anwar: I was fortunate to have met Steve Shutts, our CEO at an advisory group dinner. We had a number of discussions about Astriid after that. The first harmonic note for me was the fact that Astriid creates a world of possibilities for people with chronic health conditions and their carers, by helping them find work. This helps them feel like they are contributing to society, which brings me to my second harmonic note with Astriid’s vision. My life purpose is helping people unlock their own potential, which is why I resonated with this charity’s goals. I am honoured to be a trustee at this brilliant young British Charity called Astriid and hope that I can continue serving this community.
What part of your business experience are you bringing to Astriid and how can the charity benefit from that?
Tarek Anwar: And now on to the third harmonic note! I am learning every day how to use the skills I have acquired through my business, in service of Astriid’s candidates and community. Some of the areas where I have applied my business experience include governance; understanding risk; planning out strategy; helping Astriid candidates understand the corporate world (as they are key stakeholders in it); leadership; creativity and making things happen. I continue to learn more every day and hopefully, I can contribute even more going forward alongside my other fellow trustees.