It’s not going to be business as usual.

Now is the time you can show up, ask questions and demand answers.

pic: Joyce McCown

It takes effort and purpose to go looking in on someone else’s world, and so many of us before the pandemic only paid attention to what was affecting our own. We were lacking empathy and the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference — that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.

The global Covid-19 pandemic is turning out to be a grim but vital reminder that we human beings are here on this planet to take care of each other — and business is a way we can do that at scale.

Capitalism, for all its dangers when unfettered, remains the most powerful tool we have ever invented to channel human ingenuity to meet human needs and elevate us to new heights. When the private sector pivots to serve the greater good, its reach and power is immense.

The disruptive forces that have been unleashed by the coronavirus can enable rapid and potentially permanent shifts in mindsets and social norms. Our vulnerability and empathy have been awakened and it is possible that, after all this, the expectations on the private sector will be fundamentally altered, for the better.

We now have a rare chance to hard-wire into our psyches this more enlightened conception of what good business looks like. The process of expecting more from corporate leaders had already begun, manifest in the demands of the millennial workforce and the choices of more responsible consumers. It will now accelerate.

How a CEO or company showed up in 2020 will be a new and powerful yardstick by which they are measured. Companies that demonstrate a lack of empathy, that don’t stretch themselves to serve others, that remain silent or self-serving, whose leaders refuse to share in the economic pain, risk finding their brands and reputations permanently scarred.

The growing clamor is for more responsible and caring C-suites. Perhaps, just perhaps, our future will be shaped by a kind of reverse Darwinism: survival of the kindest and most benevolent, rather than the most ferocious and self-obsessed.

It’s a wonderful vision, and one we can now dare to imagine. One thing we can be sure of: COVID-19 is not the last such disruption we will see. “Black swans” — rare historical events — will become increasingly common in the future.

Whether it is the coming crisis in our broken food system, future pandemics, or climate change, other larger challenges await. These days are a prologue, basic training for larger tests that loom ahead; it is only a matter of time until our business leaders are challenged again.

The lesson unfolding in front of us is that companies need to prepare to meet future crises with sound balance sheets, caring leadership and genuine compassion. Those that do will be celebrated, rewarded, and cherished.

Extract from the HBR article by Paul Polman, Raj Sisodia and Kip Tindall – ‘What good business looks like’.