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There is nothing like global pandemic to take what you’ve always known and the way you’ve always done things and tip it up on its head, turn it inside out and lead you to think about how to start it again.

Whilst there will be some HR professionals right now stuck in the change curve of despair and uncertainty and trying to figure out their new normal, we, as people leaders, have a once in a lifetime opportunity to rethink the whole people proposition for a new world.

Leadership is a great example.  What went before might not cut it any longer.  The days of visible leadership (as we knew it) might be gone for a long time – being visible in a workplace or at a meeting or a conference may be a while off yet, so what does that mean for the new way of ‘being visible’ as leaders?

I once worked for a boss who believed one of his strengths was ‘he was a visible leader’ – he went to every meeting he was invited to, he was seen in the canteen at lunchtime, he fronted the monthly team briefings, he donned his PPE and went out on the shop floor – sure he was visible, but was he a leader?

If we have learnt anything from the last 4 months, its that leadership shows up in the most unlikely of places at the strangest of times.  And in some cases, leadership won’t have shown up at all.

As we move into our new normal for the time being, leadership must change.  The rapid change to workplaces and ways of working have shown us that there is a pressing need for leadership skills of the future to have three components

  1. EQ – Emotional Quotient – A high level of Emotional Intelligence, to have empathy and compassion when others respond differently to situations than you might.  An appreciation of the impact own style and beliefs might have on others. 
  2. Bravery – how do you manage risk vs bravery?  Bravery brings risk.  Those organisations who downed tools and worked differently – joined ventilator challenges and such like were brave enough to collaborate for a social purpose whilst acknowledging the risk of not owning the finished product or having the lions share of any profit.  Bravery is what will set leaders apart – those who are and those who aren’t.
  3. Humility – what we are living through right now is ‘think on your feet’ 24 hours a day and 7 days a week– there is no rule book for a global pandemic and as leaders we will make mistakes as we navigate the new normal.  We are all human beings and human beings aren’t perfect – reframing ‘mistakes’ and using them to support learning and development of others is what leaders should be known for.

Reflecting on these three components of the changing role of leadership brings me back to these are characteristics that cannot always be taught in a classroom, so it does raise the old debate around nature or nurture.  In a new era of leadership and the changing role of leaders, maybe nature is playing its part and for some leaders these characteristics do come more easily than to others.  For others it might be that they need to be learnt and practised. 

So, how do we spot these traits in leaders when we recruit and how do we develop these traits in existing leaders?

My suggestion? In this changing world, when budgets are stretched and time is of a premium, mentoring, and inspiring leaders through role modelling will be key.  EQ demonstrates itself through the commitment to being better. Habits are hard wired and anyone who has ever tried to change a habit such as to stop biting your fingernails will know that it’s not easy and there will be setbacks – this is where bravery and humility can shine.

Make these traits core to your leadership strategy.  Measure these elements of leadership through engagement surveys and 360 processes and see how well your leaders are doing – you might be surprised.  Celebrate examples of these in action.  Build them into roles and behavioural frameworks.  What gets measured gets done.  We can be role models – as we lead our organisations into a brave new world, lets show our people what good looks like as we navigate these uncertain times.

Lucy Thompson, Chief People Officer – Enginuity Group

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