What makes a good leader? As we settle into our new normal, the question of effective leadership is once again under debate. Will leaders walking into our changed future of work require different skills than we thought they would? The answer is almost undoubtedly yes. The world shifted to remote work overnight and many companies are still unraveling what that means for them. Leaders and managers are having to navigate work in a way they never anticipated while employees are adapting to online life. The process was smoother for some than others but everyone is figuring out ways to persevere and press on. So what makes a great leader in the wake of all that change and how will their skill sets need to shift as we adjust to a future no one expected?
Leading through change
Leading, whether it’s a team, department, or company, is never an easy task. When faced with uncertainty on a nearly constant basis, modern leaders are evolving to meet the needs of both remote work and their teams. So what does it take to be a good leader during Covid-19 times?
Leaders need to be reachable even at a distance: If there’s one thing that’s come out of the pandemic, it’s the importance of communication skills. It doesn’t matter whether you’re leading a small or large team, the ability to communicate clearly and transparently even from a distance has never been more important. When going through times of change, employees look to their leaders for a sense of calm in the storm. Workers need to be able to trust they can count on their company to provide information as it’s required so they can plan their lives accordingly. Given our current situation, there’s really no way to over-communicate. When it doubt, reach out to your team and have open discussions about their wins, challenges, or concerns. The right words from leadership can allay employee fears like nothing else so it’s worth the time to connect.
Out of the box doesn’t cut it anymore: Let’s face it, we’re way beyond the box now. This is completely uncharted territory. So what’s next? A leader of the future needs to be able to adapt to the unexpected and pivot to ensure productivity isn’t lost. That’s no easy challenge in a world that seems to be throwing monthly challenges our way. The ability to think creatively about problems and flex to whatever situation arises is one that’s going to be crucial moving forward as we head deeper into the unknown. Leaders need to be able to look at the big picture and figure out how to keep their employees motivated, especially if they’ve been working alone for a while. Figuring out different ways to engage employees and perhaps adapt roles and responsibilities as needed can go a long way towards retaining your staff and surviving this particular patch of disruption.
Optimism and empathy are in high demand: There has never been a better time to embrace your inner empath. Employee burnout and stress are on the rise and many employers are turning to human resources professionals to help combat the trend. Good leaders can get ahead of the game by taking the time to reach out to their team members and touch base at a regular cadence. There are many ways to check-in and see how someone is doing. A few minutes out of your day can make a real impact on someone else’s. Likewise, take care to project a positive outlook by talking with employees about what’s going on and how you’ll see them through it. When there is so much uncertainty in the world, leaders need to be seen as a trusted source of knowledge and support. People are dealing with scenarios they never expected to encounter and a little kindness goes a long way.
Self-awareness is a necessity: You need to understand yourself in order to understand others. These days being able to connect with your team and colleagues on a personal level helps bridge the distance between employees. But part of being a great leader to others is understanding how you yourself view and interact with the world around you. Gaining insights into your temperament and behaviour can help uncover areas to improve or skills to leverage when dealing with others. Once you have a better sense of how you approach work and interpersonal relationships, you can take steps to be a more understanding manager for your team. Self-development or personality assessments are a great place to start working on your own self-growth.
Soft skills are more important than ever: We all know there are certain hard skills every job needs as a base requirement. Soft skills, however, often get left out of the conversation. When the pandemic struck, however, those less appreciated skills were thrown into the spotlight. Suddenly everyone wanted resilient employees able to adapt to a changing work landscape with little notice. Leaders in our new normal need to embrace the forgotten art of soft skills and think beyond just targets and metrics. We’re entering a stage of leadership where relationship management is going to be key to staff retention and employee engagement. So embrace those soft skills and think about what your employees need from you to be effective. Celebrate team successes and work through failures with patience and constructive feedback. Become a leader who views the health of a team as being about more than just their productivity levels.
A changing future of work
There are many definitions and examples of what it takes to be a successful leader. You want someone who is great at problem-solving but can also balance the needs of a diverse group of team members. Someone who can keep projects on track while protecting employees from burning out. Companies have never needed solid leadership more but the key traits of being a great leader are shifting in the face of our new reality. Soft skills are rising in demand and the ability to balance team relationships is a must. Employees, and senior leaders, are looking for people who can adapt, take charge, and make those around them believe in the path forward. Leaders need to inspire and motivate even when faced with challenges such as a remote workforce adapting to life under the shadow of a pandemic. How we face our new normal will be a defining moment for modern leaders so let’s do our best to hit the right mark.