CEM Star Talks explores how Covid-19 changed the core of leadership


Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP) president and secretary-general address how the pandemic has overhauled the way leaders need to take charge moving forward



PETALING JAYA: The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed or magnified the challenges that people face, subsequently changing how people work, and also how people lead. To share further insights into this, last Friday, CEM Star Talk invited Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP) president, Eleanor Mohammed from Canada and CAP secretary-general, Kelley Moore from Australia to talk about Leadership during Covid-19. Earlier on in the pandemic, several countries fared better than others in controlling the situation, and both Eleanor and Moore agreed that the reason for this was that these countries’ leaders put aside politics and did what needed to be done for the benefit of the people.

Cover-pix: In the latest session of CEM Star Talk, Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP) president, Eleanor Mohammed (top right) and CAP secretary-general, Kelley Moore (bottom) shared their experience and thoughts on how Covid-19 changed the core of leadership. The session was moderated by the Malaysian Institute of Planners (MIP) Advisory Council, Khairiah Talha.



What I observed is that in the height of the crisis, people who were leading countries and communities who did a remarkable job were leading people, not leading constituents. It was what is in the best interest of the community, how to pull together to prevent loss of life, to maintain stability, education and health care, and those leaders focused on the big picture; people who put aside the tension of politics causing instability led the strongest,” said Moore.



The countries that did manage the best when it came to Covid were unapologetic – they didn’t get caught in the politics of things; they made decisions and they did it quickly. They shut down the borders and they communicated well, not just on the country level but all the way down to the municipalities,” said Eleanor. She believes that during this time where situations are continuously changing and stressful for most people, resilience is an important aspect of leadership.



Not just resilience in yourself as a leader but also building resilience in those around you, because taking care of your mental health and making sure that you’re taking breaks so that you can be a good leader is really important. You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else, and then resilience in the sense of providing needed services and support to the community and to the team if you’re leading a team,” she said.



Another big part of being a good leader, according to Moore, is assuring your team that there are better times ahead and constantly being open with them. “As a leader, I can say that right now in particular is a very challenging time and people are needing assurance and stability, so remaining calm when the seas are rough is important, and so is keeping your communication lines open, being available to your team and giving regular updates.



One of the challenges with Covid or any crisis is that you don’t always have the information you need, and that’s part of leadership; you have to follow good values, keeping transparent and sharing what you know, respecting where people are at because sometimes people are going to respond to situations differently or their life circumstances are different,” she said.



She added that it is also important to provide assurance that there is a future and opportunity, and to deal with the crisis of what’s at hand while not losing sight of a better future. Another point that Eleanor brought up was the older way of thinking about leadership is that a leader has to be perfect, and has to be at the top of their game all the time, that they can’t show fear or emotion, but the pandemic situation has forced a change.



To be a great leader in these times is to be comfortable with your own vulnerability and owning that, and empathy plays a big part in this. Out of covid what we’ve seen is leadership has become humanised; as a leader it’s ok to admit it and it’s ok for people around you to know that you’re human,” she said. “I’ve always found in times of uncertainty and great challenges it’s always about who you are at your core, what you believe, what motivates you, and your path forward. At the end of the day leaders are human too. We always want to be recognised, validated and heard,” said Moore.



Meanwhile, they emphasised that while the pandemic may have caused significant losses and stress, it has also opened up opportunities to look at situations differently and even improved some aspects of certain situations. Eleanor highlighted the improvement in air quality when the first lockdowns were enforced, which showed the impact a change of lifestyle could have on the environment and opened up conversations among planners and policy makers revolving around the issue. Another important learning point from the pandemic she observed was the need for parks and public green spaces that allow public gathering while also appropriately distancing socially.



All around the world, the most beautiful parks are in affluent neighbourhoods where the houses already have large backyards versus the need for parks in areas where it’s very high density, and people are living in apartments without any spaces of their own, and they need parks. What the pandemic revealed was the lack of parks there were for those kinds of dense developments; it was like the parks were in the wrong spaces, and it’s not to say that wealthy neighbourhoods don’t deserve parks, but we need to make sure parks are being provided in all neighbourhoods of all incomes, not just in wealthy neighbourhoods,” she said.



She elaborated that in the past if planners pushed for green spaces and open space, they would receive comments that those spaces were unnecessary and that the space in that development would be better utilised to pack more people into high density areas, but Covid-19 has proven the need for such open spaces, leading to the decision makers being more inclined to approve such projects. City Expo Malaysia’s Star Talk Series touches on topics based on the 16 urbanism themes that will be explored at the Expo ranging from mixed-use development, smart cities, placemaking, walkable cities and many more. The expo is open to the public and visitors can register at www.cityexpomalaysia.com.





About City Expo Malaysia

City Expo Malaysia 2021 is a joint effort between the Malaysian Institute of Planners and Nextdor Property Communications, designed to allow for discourse and engagement amongst city stakeholders around the topic of city planning and development. The event also celebrates the 100th anniversary of formal town planning in Malaysia. To mark the occasion, a 5-day forum and 30-day exhibition will take place from November 8, 2021. For more information, go to cityexpomalaysia.com.