Leadership Skills in a Post COVID World

The global pandemic, a ‘black swan’ event if there has ever been one, has irrevocably changed not only our external world but also our internal world. The safe spaces and safety nets that we could retreat into or cushion our fall have all but disappeared. Our primal instincts of fight or flight are hijacking our rational and reasoned thinking. Our brains are conflicted between sticking with habits and behavior that we are used to and the new responses that are required today. How will this play out when it comes to leadership development in the coming days and years? As an Executive Coach, this subject is of special interest to me and hence, I decided to look for emerging data and new research on what today’s leaders thought would be the skills and behavior they would need to adopt to flourish in the new world.

My first task was to do a dip stick within my networks to understand the sentiment on the ground. I started with a series of polls within business communities as well as industry leadership groups. My quest was to determine how, if at all, the leadership perspective has shifted and the new priorities. The results showed that there was a marked shift in leadership focus; from steering business results to managing cash flows and costs; from developing human capital to enhancing employee security and wellbeing; from strategic objectives to maintaining business continuity. This was not surprising and an expected outcome. The findings were also corroborated through my chats with clients and colleagues.

Next, I delved into what new surveys and global research findings were suggesting. The Willis Towers Watson report for instance suggests that crisis handling and change management are the critical factors requiring attention from leaders. The World Economic Forum report looks at 6 intelligences including Contextual, Moral, Emotional, Generative, Technological and Transformative intelligences as a framework for leadership. Other research data seem to suggest that decision making is now more instinctual rather than reasoned and creative thinking is taking precedence over critical thinking.

Putting all this together, I’ve come up with 5 new core skills/behaviours that leaders have to develop or strengthen in the days ahead in order to not only deal with the present challenges but also in order to create the eco-system to withstand and rive in the fallout of this pandemic in the years to come. These 5 core skills/behaviours are:

  1. Purpose: Organizations and leaders need to move from revenues and profits towards purpose driven leadership. Employees need to know what they are working for and how that is going to contribute to their own lives as well as the community they live in. Leaders have to articulate and sustain the big picture view of why employees are expected to do what they do.
  2. Humility: If there is one thing this pandemic has shown it is that nobody has the answers; there are no experts and everyone is learning on the go.Employees are looking for leaders who are not afraid to show their vulnerability and display humility in learning and changing their own set ways even as they expect their employees to adapt and change.
  3. Agile Thinking: The world has to make do with much lesser resources and this is true for organizations of any size. Leaders need to think on their feet and pivot on a dime in order to keep the operations running smoothly in a VUCA environment.There is no room for procrastination or contemplating.
  4. Over-communication: One of the downsides of employees working from home is that they are not able to see the big picture and how what they are doing is fitting into the overall scheme of things. It is the leader’s responsibility to keep everybody aligned and updated with what’s happening across all levels through frequent and empathic communication.Employees expect their leaders to keep them in the know and nix rumours and fake news.
  5. Rapid Decision making: Leaders today have to learn to take decisions quickly even in the absence of complete data or even conflicting information. Gone are the days of consultative or collective decision making. Leaders today need to be able to quickly assess emerging situations, evaluate practical and cost effective solutions and take prompt and decisive action.

I believe that leaders of today and tomorrow need to recognize that the world has changed perhaps for ever and that what worked for them yesterday would not do so today. a mindset shift has to take place all around starting with people in leadership positions, a mindset that moves away from “business as usual” and towards “business that works” in the new paradigm. Leaders have to align their way of working with the business imperatives as well as employee expectations of how their lives and careers are going to be affected by what’s happening around us.