“As circumstances change, leadership must change. A certain set of skills, instincts, and personality traits may be perfect today, but useless tomorrow.”, said Ricardo Semler, Brazilian entrepreneur and author of the best-seller “The Maverick”.
The pandemic leads to a sudden need for working from home and remote team management eventually leaving organizations to contemplate hybrid working as the immediate next normal. When we closely observe the changes in the ways of working, leadership behaviours have undergone a transformation. Those who have adopted the skills of the future and adapted to the needs of the time are ahead in the race.
Sounds fuzzy? Let’s decode piece by piece to see what leaders should do now for their metamorphosis into leaders of the future. While we might hear of building technical adaptability, man-machine interaction, make diversity and inclusion a thing to live by, etc., I would urge you all to look a little deeper. What is it that makes all of these leadership skills works?
I am reminded of an experience I had very early in my childhood. My father worked in a very senior position with the Government of India and in spite of tremendous work pressure, he was always very popular with his team. At the same time, I also saw his colleague feeling really burnt out. An evening walk conversation with my father taught me a very important management lesson.
He asked me, “What do you think would make you want to come to work daily?”. “Feeling valued”, was my spontaneous response. Dad explained to me that employees feel valued only because he believes in them. He trusts their ability to work and does not impose unnecessary rules on them. They are free to work double shifts for 3 days in a week and take the next 4 days off and spend time with their families!!
I was curious to know if productivity was impacted. Dad said excitedly, “Of course, it was impacted…..but in a good way!!”. When the leader articulates the vision and believes in his employees to be able to get there, they get there! This is the power of trust.
The workplace of the future is expected to have the consequences the pandemic and the lockdown has left us with. In other words, future workplaces will have to deal with the demands of remote working by employees. Many organizations also are officially building hybrid workplaces too.
Managing teams remotely requires Trust as the key ingredient. The way in which leaders can develop this skill is by practicing behaviours that reflect trust. For example, share information with complete transparency. Keep no information hidden so that team members are well equipped to make the right decisions. Giving freedom to take decisions simply means that the leader is treating them as adults and not like a child.
Going back to the conversation with my father, how did it work for him with his engineers coming to work for 3 days in a week when his department was actually catering to the country 24 x 7? When he trusted that his team would be committed, they organized their shifts in such a way that there was never a shift without an engineer.
Each team decided specific days of the week when they would work and when they would take days off. His colleague, on the other hand, took the entire accountability on himself and insisted on specific work hours without any consideration of each person’s challenges. In summary, the second leadership skill of the future is ‘to be able to distribute power’.
We are all taking extensively of technology, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, using disruptive technology to stay ahead of the competition, etc. In that context, leaders would need to create a safe space for innovation in the workplace. And how does that happen?
By simply letting teams explore, experiment, and execute. The ability to experiment needs to be developed in teams and the only way to get them to do it is by letting them throw away any ‘fear of failure’ and more importantly ‘fear of consequence’.
One might argue that fear of failure does not exist in my team because I let them fail. Yet I don’t see them trying to experiment. It is then worthwhile doing an introspection whether as a leader, you are allowing them to voice their opinion too, without fear of consequence.
Therefore, future leadership skill number three is “Equip, encourage and empower”. This quote “The sword doesn’t change. So, you have to adapt to the sword. You can’t change your surroundings. They only change once you have changed.” – Bjørn Aris, author of “The Cutting Edge. The Martial Art of Business” summarizes the changes leaders of the future need to make in their ways of working.