Future leaders. In the final section of my 4 part consideration into the future of work in the UK, I will focus on the emerging organisational requirements of current and future leaders, and the key traits that I anticipate will be most sought after following Covid-19.
2020 has presented seismic challenges for business leaders, but also a splendid opportunity to experiment. Leading through Covid has demanded a significantly faster and bolder, decision making process, initially to ensure business survival and then to exploit opportunities and avenues presented by the crisis.
Businesses that are thriving in the current situation are also demonstrating high levels of collaboration and increased stakeholder engagement with suppliers, employees, and even other CEOs (McKinsey, July 2020); this more inter-connected and humanistic approach to business leadership may well set the trend for the coming decade.
Team, Task and Individual
Right now, with the return to work, CEOs are being forced to make challenging decisions relating to the health and wellbeing of their employees, and in many instances they are having to face job reductions. Making significant and complex decisions requires leaders to understand and commit to their own values and principles, and to listen to the advice of their trusted people, far more than during times of stability.
Although it’s an old model, John Adair’s venn diagram; balancing the Task, Team, and Individual continues to be a useful concept for today. In terms of the task, critical incidents require leaders to make quick, often bold, decisions that hold high consequence outcomes. Front line military, policing and clinical practitioners are trained to work in these environments, and have excellent tools, such as the Combat Estimate, and the OODA Loop (Observe, Orientate, Decide, Act) to enhance the likelihood of positive outcomes.
This year, almost everyone in a decision-making role has had to master critical incident leadership and become more comfortable with accepting a degree of risk. A key question is whether leaders will be encouraged to continue to make swift and bold decisions when we return to a ‘steady state’.
Ensuring a disaster doesn’t become a catastrophe
People want to feel safe, and due to the objective threats of Covid and recession, many now don’t. Juilliard Carr, in 1932, wrote that a catastrophe is brought about by a “collapse of the cultural protections” following a disaster. Covid is a disaster, but many of the most effective leaders have prevented it from becoming a catastrophe. The need for people to work at home and to work flexibly in order to balance a multitude of responsibilities, has been an opportunity for trust to develop within organisations.
However, this is still a time characterised by uncertainty, anxiety and fear; leaders have to manage this on a personal level, whilst supporting a wide cross section of people. Supportive, empathetic communication is necessary at a time of crisis, and leaders need to be genuinely attentive to their people’s psychological, as well as physical, safety. Some have an even wider focus, and are looking after smaller, more vulnerable businesses in their supply chain by making funds available to pay invoices fast.
The leaders who are getting it right, at the moment, are acting decisively and engaging with their stakeholders with empathy and humility. They understand that when people feel psychologically safe; ie, they do not fear inter-personal communication, they will speak out, engage with the plan for change, and become part of it. The collective fear of Covid has created an ideal environment for increased trust, innovation and collaboration for businesses led by those with vision and the interpersonal skills to take people with them.
The hope is that when the world re-normalises, we take the best learning from this situation forwards and create exciting, supportive businesses, led by innovators who understand the power of empathy.
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Associate tutor of In Professional Development