What it means to be a leader and how this needs to change post-COVID
Written by Roland Innes, CEO at DYNA
The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent dramatic shift toward Work from Home (WFH) has caused significant upheaval for many businesses. While there was an initial uptick in productivity, this has waned as employees become disengaged and people struggle to come to grips with the cultural shift required. The need to keep employees engaged while also ensuring they maintain a work-life balance and sound mental health is a real challenge. People in positions of leadership are often the only point of contact in a virtual world, and they need the right blend of skills to effectively and empathetically manage those under them. What it means to be a leader needs to change in the world post-Covid, with emphasis on different skill sets and professional leadership training and qualifications.
The screen between us
With remote and virtual working, communication is an absolutely critical skill in maintaining productivity between and among teams. However, the fact remains that even with the most brilliant communication skills, and cutting-edge collaboration tools, there is still a screen that acts as a divider between people. Things like creativity and problem-solving are negatively affected, because there is a feeling of ‘unnaturalness’ to the way we are currently working and communicating.
Many people are becoming disengaged and their work ethic may suffer as a result. In addition to this, there are significant mental health challenges and issues that we need to contend with. The pandemic has brought about increases in anxiety and depression, and many people are isolated from society, which only worsens these issues. Added to this is the fear of job loss and the rampant levels of unemployment, which may drive people to work long hours and negatively affect their work-life balance.
Leadership is what drives success
Leadership within business has never been more important than it is now, and the current landscape is a unique opportunity for effective leaders to really shine. People are tired, their mental health is suffering, and this can and will impact on productivity. Leaders need to step up to support those under them to help drive the engagement needed to maintain productivity and health in an uncertain world.
Leaders now need to navigate the path forward for their teams – they are the glue that holds people together. This requires very specific skills that may not have been as prominent in the world before COVID. Skills such as emotional intelligence and the ability to effectively read the emotions of others are key, and the emotional vocabulary of our leaders needs to grow. Leaders need to be empathetic and understanding, while acknowledging that we are all human and we are all struggling with the frustration of our current circumstances.
New skills for a new world
The role of leader is no longer about micromanagement and clock watching, but about inspiring and coaching employees to build and sustain relationships. They also need to fill a huge energy void, as a call from a team leader may be the only contact an employee has with their place of employment today. Creating and maintaining human connection is paramount. Businesses need to empower their leaders with the skills of empathy, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and effective communication, but more than that, they need to ensure their leaders have the time to effectively perform their jobs.
In companies that have not only survived, but thrived in this strange new world, there are certain commonalities that can be found. The expectations of each employee are well-defined and well communicated. In addition, successful businesses realise that work needs to be about outcomes, not screen or face time. Leaders are flexible and can adapt quickly, and the most successful have superior problem-solving abilities to come up with creative solutions to the unprecedented complexities that have arisen.
What makes a leader?
What it means to be a leader needs to be redefined, and the way we look at leadership may even need to change. Leadership roles should not be about promoting the person who has been at the organisation the longest, but about who has the right skills for the job. Leadership could potentially even become a profession. The reality is that the conversation around leadership needs to change, along with attitudes and mindsets.
Leadership is an ongoing journey, not a destination, and this is the cultural shift that is crucial. There needs to be an understanding that leaders are there to provide a service, and should treat their teams with empathy, humanity and respect. This is the key to creating an engaged workforce and an engaged culture today, and in the future, whether we continue to work remotely or return to a more office-bound environment.