Business Management
4 min read

Beyond COVID-19: Leadership skills fit for the future

EHL Insights
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It is no secret that the current public health crisis has sent the economy into turmoil, leaving businesses large and small fighting for survival and a workforce living through exceptionally challenging times. Against the backdrop of uncertain markets and the UN’s forecast global economy contraction of 3.2% in 2020, it is particularly important to be equipped with pertinent leadership skills.

As we emerge from this crisis, it may be tempting to cut spending on leadership development in an effort to balance the books. However, it is at this time more than ever that appropriately skilled leaders can play their part in righting the ship. With the correct focus, smaller budgets need not necessarily cause development quality to be sacrificed. Instead, letting go our grip of the way development has been pursued in the past, we can embrace the reality of the present and the future. Rethinking development will mean being open to different technological solutions and affording soft skills the importance they deserve. Venturing into this new world, executive and personal coaching will play a significant role, with new trends in executive coaching emerging to meet the altered demand.

 

The post-coronavirus skillset: a survival kit

Developing leadership in global organizations should be targeted at specific high-leverage skills to give executives the best possible chances for success in the post-coronavirus era:

  • communication skills
  • empathy
  • hybrid team leadership
  • technology smarts
  • vucability

Let us take a closer look at these all-important skills and how they relate to the new normal.

Communicating with candor

At times like these, both the preconditions for business and the spectrum of realistic business outcomes are subject to rapid change. This propels communication to the forefront of operational activities, aiming to keep all stakeholders up to date. In both internal and external communications, leaders are therefore called upon to communicate effectively with different purposes and target audiences in mind.

The antidote to the overwhelming whirlwind of information and shifting circumstances is simple: clear, candid, consistent, reliable, fact-based information. When anxiety and cynicism loom large, there is no place for misleading half-truths or irresponsible optimism. Much less an absence of information overall. This calls for a certain humility, self-awareness, openness to feedback and a steady flow of communication both on and offline.

 

Genuine relationships through empathy

Reawakening enthusiasm for daily business among frazzled, long-isolated employees requires sensitivity and emotional intelligence. COVID-19 has left people in a state of grief - figuratively if not literally - and in need of human connection and understanding. Leaders must remain vigilant of the longer-term impact of lockdown, be this any mental health issues that may have arisen or a loss of passion for the job.

Showing employees empathy may be as easy as listening with genuine interest. It may involve offering encouragement or incentives. In some cases, it may include referring employees for counselling or deciding to put a halt to a meeting to accommodate staff’s need for a change of pace or some fresh air. Leaders who understand how to cultivate meaningful relationships with their staff are more likely to be able to rally the troops.

 

Managing hybrid teams

While eased restrictions may see many employees return to work, this widespread period of working from home is likely to have a lasting impact. We expect to see more companies accommodating remote work to various degrees and greater flexibility as regards working hours. Add to this the growing significance of the gig economy, and it is clear that managing employees will harbor new challenges post COVID-19.

To make this work successfully while safeguarding productivity and efficiency, leaders will need to know how to foster strong, cohesive teams, despite the obvious gap between team members at the office and those working from home. Enabling factors may include an adapted workplace featuring more communal work areas rather than designated desk space or processes reimagined for virtual and hybrid teams. All in all, this equates to a totally new leadership style.

 

Leveraging technology

The public health crisis has seen tech platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams take center-stage. Tech solutions of this kind, along with those facilitating workflow management, project-based collaboration and communication in general will continue to be of relevance in the aftermath of coronavirus, not least to ensure companies can withstand future waves and other potential pandemics. Robotics, augmented reality, big data, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things may prove to be additional sources of corporate longevity.

In properly leveraging the technological options out there and building a strong digital presence, those executives who are able to draw upon competence in the areas of cloud computing, digital marketing, web development, modelling and coding will stand head and shoulders above the rest. Meanwhile, the heightened importance of data in decision-making will demand new strengths in data and media literacy, problem-solving and critical thinking.

 

Agility and resilience in VUCA times

The COVID-19 crisis has created the epitome of VUCA environments: volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity abound. Where previously smaller-scale businesses may have been able to eliminate some variables by clearly defining their scope or tailoring their services to a specific location, for example, the blanket coverage of coronavirus-related complexities leave no enterprise untouched.

Under these circumstances, the ability to react quickly to change, demonstrating flexibility and agility in merging planned activities with adapted ones or changing course entirely is highly regarded. A winning attitude, resilience and the foresight to deal with the expected and unexpected alike, often working to newly cropped budgets, are in demand. With leaders under pressure as a matter of course, they will need to be able to reprioritize at the drop of a hat, without losing sight of the bigger picture. They will also need to understand that sometimes the best leadership strategy is to admit to not having all the answers, knowing when to bring in the experts to make sure all business decisions are based on solid information and not bias.

This survival kit of post-coronavirus skills should go some way to ensuring success in the face of adversity. If companies want to go one better than coping - if they intend to thrive - they will also need a generous helping of human creativity and innovation. Sustainably breathing life back into the economy will call for imaginative solutions. Do you have any bright ideas?

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