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The leadership shift

These 7 behavioural shifts are seeing leaders through the pandemic successfully. How they carry them forward is going to be a true marker of success of leaders that turn an unmitigated disaster into an opportunity.

Most leaders haven’t faced the kind of uncertainty in their careers. Good leaders quickly realised ‘same old’ was not going to work and made some key shifts. Holding on to these new behaviours and ways of working will truly unlock organisational potential.

Adaptive – In many cases, corporate strategies have had to be suspended, ways of working have been upended and they have had to put something different in place to respond to the current situation. Most leaders realised early on that they will not have all the answers and created cross functional working groups to navigate these turbulent times. They have tried new things at an unprecedented rate, where things have not worked, they have rapidly responded to emerging data. How fabulous would it be if organisations carried on with this adaptive, emergent way of working and built the organisational muscle to deal with ambiguity?

Empowerment – For years organisations have grappled with pushing down decision making – COVID 19 has been the forcing function.  The unforgiving pace meant leaders had to let go as they just haven’t been able to attend to every new decision. Smart leaders set some clear guardrails and ensured employees feel empowered to take decisions, knowing their leaders will have their back. Going forward, there will be some testing and learning but the only way this will work is if leaders resist the urge to jump in, are comfortable with imperfection and advocate forgiveness over permission.

Trust – Trust takes on greater relevance in our new found way of remote working. Most organisations have been forced to adopt remote working en-masse and have admirably overcome both infrastructural as well as mental barriers. Even naysayers have been pushed into the realisation this is actually working for them. No doubt this opens up opportunities for attracting talent and the way we work. But for this to work, the magic ingredient will be trust. Leaders have to genuinely believe that when people have a clear role purpose and accountabilities and know they are trusted, they will want to do the best work of their lives. Leaders have to give people the space to manage their own time and energy and allow their teams to self-organise rather than micro manage them. Autonomy, choice and clear outcomes will drive greater productivity.

Care – Employees have been struck by how caring and compassionate most leaders have been. Often, good leaders haven’t waited for an organisational stance, but have used a basic sense of humanity and empathy, driven by values to hone into what the employee needs and care for their people. Tapping into what your people need is not just on a rainy day but holding on to this will drive greater engagement and productivity. This will be even more important as people return to the new world of work, many having suffered loss and anxiety.

Ruthless prioritisation – Leaders have been forced to take a hard look at what they will and won’t do to survive this pandemic based on the resources they have and the market they are facing into. The best leaders have had an eye on today and also looked out into the horizon to see how the crisis was going to impact them going forward – was this going to be a speed bump or a complete course change and what if any opportunity had emerged. Leaders should hold on to this acute sense of prioritisation to restart or reshape their organisations, acting with urgency.

Candid Communication – With organisations adapting to remote working, leaders have rightly gone on a communication overdrive. This has been key in holding organisations together. Several leaders and HR teams have already started thinking of the right cadence to continue to engage teams and create connection. What creates true connection is candour. During the pandemic, anxious employees looked to their leaders for certainty and answers, which the leaders often didn’t have. Leaders who got the response right were honest about not having all the answers. Empty upbeat messages were not going to rally the troops right now. Moreover, leaders needed all-hands-on deck and with devolution of decision making, came a need for employees to have all the facts and overall context.

It’s not that leaders deliberately want to be untruthful. It comes from a really good place of trying to protect their people.  During the pandemic we actually saw more adult to adult relationships. Coming out of this, leaders should continue to be open, honest and treat their people as adults.

Inclusivity – We have seen leaders create task-forces consisting of front-line employees and experts who have co-created how organisations respond to the pandemic. This has brought diverse and creative thoughts into the fore and been a fantastic opportunity for talent development. This is what HR teams have been trying to do for years!

The pandemic has brought tremendous loss but retaining the skills leaders have learned in this process can help us rebuild and move forward in a stronger way.

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