The New Leadership Dance Involves a Lot of Pivoting
By Debra Walker
As we approach the end of this remarkable calendar year, there are concepts that illustrate the milestones of this period of history. We each have had to personally bob and weave as every corner of our lives has been touched, with our workplaces being key steps in that dance of change.
As we lock down, reopen, lock down again, adjust, and adapt, leaders of organizations are being put to the test in ways not widely imagined a few short months ago. In the past, we have focused our leadership recruitment and development on traits that have significantly shifted since the onset of COVID-19. It is not just the pandemic that has necessitated the need for change but the confluence of also being in difficult economic and political times combined with alarmingly high levels of distrust and social divide accompanied by technological advances that turned the workplace on its ear seemingly overnight.
For leaders to be able to meet shifting expectations and accountabilities, in order to not merely survive but to thrive, calls on different skills and aptitudes in the post-COVID19 workplace that include:
- managing hybrid teams
- active listening
Many of these traits are not new but all have a slightly different, finely tuned edge to them in both proactive and responsive workplaces thanks to the learning we have acquired in the last year. For example, we’ve always wanted leaders who were honest but what is now required is a leader who can be candid but can do so without ambiguity, often in times of abundant ambiguity. When we are crossing uncharted territory, employees and society at large are seeking those who can be frank – no skirting or soft pedalling around the issues or topics – but also those that also can have the humility to acknowledge that they are human and fallible.
Communication has shown up as weaker areas on employee engagement surveys as long as I can remember administering them and we have seen illustrations from around the world how nature abhors any vacuum. In the absence of effective communication that is consistent, reliable and fact-based, the holes will be filled in with conjecture, hypothesis and rumours; further eroding trust.
Active listening and empathy are two of the traits shown to be key to effective leadership in the past but now it is important to be accompanied by agility, which includes flexibility, and adaptability.
What has resulted as a fallout of having a harsh light shone on the skills of our leaders is the identification of a gap that has widened between leaders, who are equipped versus those who aren’t in navigating the new reality, which has in turn impacts their ability to problem solve.
Research has found that this gap has emerged due to three major scenarios that require a holistic shift in demand on our leaders:
- Organizational disruptions require the ability to strategically pivot;
- Digital acceleration requires managers who can embrace a digital mindset (honestly, not very many of us knew what Zoom was 12 – 18 months ago);
- Shifts in the way we work means managing distributed and/or remote workforces/teams which in turn requires increased fluency of communication.
In order to meet these shifting needs within disruptive processes and expectations, leadership development is required, and not just for the “new to position” leaders. What is required is a purposeful strategy that must align with two prime leadership imperatives: driving performance and preparing for the future.
In many ways, effective leaders of today and tomorrow are less about individual traits than they are about mindsets and behaviours, and this collection will assist leaders in attaining the leadership imperatives noted above:
|Change ready||Change agile|
|Leads through hierarchy||Building inclusion and psychological safety|
|Has all the answers||Has learning mindset|
|Gives regular feedback||Embraces radical candour|
|Favours top down communication||Taps into social movement|
|Periodic and static performance conversations||Regular and dynamic performance conversations|
|Busyness and long work hours as a badge of honour||The best leaders know how to thrive|
(Source: www.lhh.com/us/en/organizations/our-insights/covid-19-is-shining-a-light-on-leadership; Dr. Mary-Clare Race)
With mindsets and behaviours key to development and resiliency in order to bridge those leadership gaps, there is an overlay of three pillars of specific skills and capabilities for leadership development to focus on:
- Leading through uncertainty: Being comfortable with ambiguity and making decisions in complex layers of grey while being able to make sense of what is emerging, not just for themselves but also for their teams.
- Cultivating trust: Trust is at a premium and people are functioning more and more in silos and echo chambers. Building a climate of purpose and belonging requires strong demonstration of empathy and authenticity.
- Re-skilling to be able to meet the opportunities: Between the impact of the acceleration of AI / digital prevalence and work planning modifications due to COVID, leaders must build on their and their teams’ foundational skills in order to guide organizations for what is ahead.
In order to bridge the gaps that have been illuminated by the above, it will be important to realign rewards and recognition programs as well in order to accelerate the acclimation of these evolving mindsets and to aid in pivoting to what will go into defining the new world… and those pivots may help us to no longer be dancing with two left feet.