In many ways the pandemic has brought out the best in people. However, it has also highlighted the outmoded leadership styles that many have, and that will continue to cause havoc as we emerge from the crisis.
A report by The Global Alliance in Management Education found that where hard skills were once prized, now softer, more humane competencies have gained greater value. As they recognise, good leadership includes the ability to flex and respond to changing needs; “The leadership style that comes naturally to you or is typical for your organisation may not always be fit for purpose. If you simply default to this style, you could end up letting your organisation down when it needs you most.”
As we emerge from the worst of the pandemic, now is not the time to simply default to your pre-Covid leadership style. Recovery and renewal requires distinct skills as we move forward. Distilling the latest research and reflecting on our experience working with dozens of organisations throughout the crisis, we identified the five essential leadership traits for now.
1- Agility & Adaptability
The crisis was proof of the need for leaders to be able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. This goes beyond flexibility in the heat of crisis but towards leaders who have a growth mindset at all times, not just in stormy seas. Agile and adaptable leaders embrace challenges and have a desire to learn. They adjust quickly to new scenarios; moving, adapting and learning as they drive to solutions.
This means that even in ‘good times’ they demonstrate passion for experimenting and change rather than simply playing it safe. As Deloitte advises:
“As organisations move towards ‘Recover’ and ‘Thrive’ phase of the crisis, agile innovation is expected to become a defining characteristic for organisations. New business models are emerging and organisations need to be adaptive to capitalise these models. Leaders need to drive a mind-set of experimenting and change. Coupled with quick decision making and risk taking, this will be a critical trait that leaders will need to steer organisations to thrive in the new normal.”
This also means leaders must be able to recognise their own failings and deficits. However, as identified by researchers from the NEOMA Business School recent events have shown that some leaders cannot recognise their limitations; “When making important decisions, they rely on their own intuition and ignore scientific evidence. Studies on leader humility have shown that managers who demonstrate willingness to learn from others and aim towards self-improvement are likely to stimulate collective action and increase company performance.”
2 – Accountability
It’s not revolutionary to say that leaders must lead by example. Accountability means taking personal responsibility for what you do, when you do it and how you do it. It means admitting shortcomings and striving for improvement. Aside from personal accountability, it also means holding colleagues and team members to account and consistently driving the right behaviours across the organisation.
As Brian Dive describes in The Accountable Leader, accountability is:
- A statement of personal promise, both to yourself and to the people around you, to deliver specific defined results
- Accountability for results means activities are not enough
- Accountability for results requires room for personal judgment and decision-making
- Accountability is neither shared nor conditional
3- Advanced Communication & Collaboration skills
With the post-pandemic workplace revolution now at the forefront of minds, the ability for leaders to champion collaboration and challenge the silo mindset is vital. In a changing world of work leadership communication must exemplify clarity and motivate those around them
Professor Robert Hooijberg at IMD Business School says:
“Effective leadership in this new hybrid world requires different skills that go beyond traditional team leadership. Specifically, organizations will need leaders who can operate well across two distinct modes. For much of the time, they will operate in virtual coordination mode. This means establishing goals, monitoring progress, driving information sharing, and sustaining connections among colleagues working remotely. When their teams periodically come together to engage in face to face collaboration, leaders will need to operate differently, aiming to foster deep learning, innovation, acculturation, and dedication.”
4 – Social & Emotional Intelligence
The most effective leaders are those who are self-aware and understand the impact they have on those around them. They are empathetic and develop, retain and engage high performing teams. Their awareness of others’ needs enables understanding of key customer issues and creates great collaboration across the business generating the right actions. In today’s turbulent world, these attributes are needed more than ever.
As Deloitte recognises, as organisations begin the recovery process, leaders will need to stay committed to the principles of empathy and wellbeing of the employees and a new style of supportive leadership will be at the centre of organisational success over the coming year
“…embracing a more trusting, flexible and supportive approach. This involves managing different team dynamics, blurred personal and professional boundaries and a need for new management practices that address hybrid-specific issues”.
5 – Transformative Thinking & Wider Awareness
There is nothing quite like a global pandemic to demonstrate how vital it is for leaders to be aware of the bigger strategic picture. Localised, insular thinking just won’t cut it, even when we start to return to ‘normal’. In today’s world, where agility in the face of constant change is a foundation of leadership, leaders must continually think about how to drive change, disrupt the status quo and encourage those around them to ‘think outside the box’.
As Tammy Erickson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, London Business School says, “Ensure everyone in the organisation is alert to possible changes. Bring in provocative or unsettling ideas. Send people out to see what’s happening elsewhere. Most importantly, legitimise and celebrate diverse ideas, while creating time to make sense of new perspectives.”
This requires leaders to cultivate true inclusion and psychological safety – i.e. a culture that allows for open accountability and sees honest failure not as a punishable offence but as an opportunity for growth and learning. McKinsey advises, “Leaders and managers can help create inclusive and psychologically safe team environments by modeling behaviors that value the inputs of all members, encourage individuality, and allow members to experiment without fear of negative consequences.”
In this atmosphere, transformational leaders bring teams together under a shared mission and values. As Northwestern University’s Les Stein describes, “At the most basic level, transformational leadership is used to inspire employees to look ahead with a focus on the greater good and to function as a single unit with a common goal in mind.
Put another way, “a great leader helps individuals believe in themselves and contribute to an achievement that they thought not possible if acting alone.” (Forster & Patlas, 2020)
Take a breath and recalibrate
This crisis has tested leaders’ mettle and resilience. While it’s not possible to take the foot all the way off the gas right now, leaders should allow some time and space to pause and reflect on what skills they will need to lead through the next phase of this crisis. There is no business as usual and future-proofed leadership looks very different to the paradigm of old. There is no way to cover all aspects of what leaders might need in their arsenal in this one article, but it should provide food for thought. Where are your strengths? Your blind spots? At the end of the day only you are accountable for how you develop in response to the challenges of today – and tomorrow.
Author: Helen Jamieson, Founder and MD at Jaluch HR
Helen is an award-winning expert in leadership development, culture change, D&I, and CSR. For over 19 years Jaluch has provided organisations of all sizes with HR expertise, assisting teams to build knowledge, process and solutions that positively impact people and support business innovation.