Banker Lincoln Mali gives advice on how to lead through Covid-19 storm

Head of group card and emerging payments for Standard Bank, Lincoln Mali, said mental and physical health needed to be a priority for all staff.
Head of group card and emerging payments for Standard Bank, Lincoln Mali, said mental and physical health needed to be a priority for all staff.
Image: Supplied

We are all in the same storm but not in the same boat — and as a leader you need to understand what boat your staff are in, what boat your suppliers are in, and what boat your clients are in, urged banker Lincoln Mali.

The head of group, card and emerging payments for Standard Bank was speaking at a business webinar hosted by the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber, in partnership with The Herald and Standard Bank.

He said on Monday that while South Africans slowly rebuilt their lives during Level 3 of the lockdown, citizens should remember that the virus was not gone.“We are co-living with a deadly virus,” he said.

Mali, who was born in Port Elizabeth, said he had been in lockdown for the last three months on a farm in East London.

Luckily, he was able to conduct all his meetings virtually.

And even though he had nowhere to go, every day he put on a suit and tie, much to his family’s amusement.

Every day for two months he would also send a short video clip to his staff — mostly working from home — to try to motivate them.

“Your mental and physical health should be your top priority during this time.”

While many called it the “new normal”, Mali said he liked to refer to life with Covid-19 as the “new abnormal”.

“Many staff members are working from home and it is possible for them to be very productive.

“I have meetings with people all over the world sitting in my home. I must not yearn for a time to be back in the office because it is unlikely to happen this year.”

He said parents were working with their children at home and online schooling was a big challenge for most.

“So how can you help your employees through this as a leader? You have to project a positive message. You must build a message of hope.”

Mali said it was okay for a leader to be vulnerable in front of his or her staff — that it created a platform of trust.

“Look at how President [Cyril] Ramaphosa battled to put on his mask on national TV, it showed us that he is human too.”

He said going forward, company bosses needed to reimagine their organisation and its future.

There seemed to be a trust deficit across society and employees did not seem to believe their employers had put enough safety measures in place for their return.

“It can’t be business as usual, you have to relook at the future.”

He said no-one knew what tomorrow would look like.

“We are all working on possible scenarios but the reality is none of us really know.”

He also believed Africa had not yet seen the worst of the pandemic.

“When we yearn for the normal we must understand that there is no normal.

“Many companies have indicated that they are losing staff and business and deals that cross borders. It affects all of us ... across all spheres.”

Leading through uncertain times: The impact of Covid-19, digitisation and business response. Join the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber in partnership with Standard Bank and The Herald as Lincoln Mali presents on how to lead during the uncertain time. The session will cover the impact of Covid-19, digitisation and business response to crisis.

According to Mali, almost all companies that took part in a recent survey had indicated that their turnover was below the normal rate.

Many businesses were expected to work with a lower headcount than before, while others were considering laying off staff.

“But the most profound statistic for me is some companies saying that if they cannot open in the next two or three months, they may never open again.”

He said the SA economy had not been in great shape before the pandemic and this did not provide government with much leeway when compared the wealthier countries.

Turning to customer trends, Mali said what he had noted was that additional health and safety measures seemed to be the first thing people spent their money on.

Any slight cough and they would run to the pharmacy.

Meanwhile, people were spending less on luxuries because they were uncertain about the future.

“To survive you need to be frugal, you do not need fancy things in your office.

“I was laughed at when I sold my car and bought a small car. If you think about it, I drive that car to work and leave it there all day. When I’m overseas I leave my car here. So I’m glad I now own a small car.”

Another notable trend was online shopping. E-commerce had grown at an exponential rate.

Online entertainment had also grown.

How does he sum up his advice to small businesses?

“Focus on managing your cash flow, push up productivity from those staff members working from home, communicate constantly with clients and remember, this is not a holiday, you need to use this time to think up ways to improve your business.

“And rely on relief from banks and government as much as you can.”

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