Leadership is the act of realizing a clear and compelling vision through others. Great leaders build amazing organizations that thrive, while bad leaders typically degrade their organizations and sometimes destroy them. In the work we do in executive coaching at AIIR Consulting, leaders work with an executive coach to create a strategic development plan with specific goals relevant to their optimization as a leader. We studied two years of this data and found five top themes prior to the pandemic that many leaders focused on:
- Leadership brand – Influence and credibility are important for those who manage teams. This involves creating a brand that maximizes trust and reputation.
- Team leadership – Executives want to know how to lead high-performing teams so they can produce great results and steer their organizations to new goals.
- Communication effectiveness – Communication across all channels should be effective to maximize influence and clarity.
- Leader as coach – Demonstrating coaching skills as a leader involves holding teams accountable to performance expectations and encouraging them to reach their potential.
- Impactful relationships – Relationships can maximize engagement and help leaders connect with their peers in meaningful ways.
These five themes remain highly relevant. However, as COVID-19 created massive disruption to the way we work, and as we now inch closer to a post-pandemic workplace, we are seeing new themes emerge in our research that are hyper-relevant for leaders right now.
Being human involves being authentic and demonstrating humanity and vulnerability. It’s not enough to just have a well-crafted corporate veneer. People want to move beyond the mask and see the person underneath. This helps people to better connect with their colleagues by building trust and meaningful relationships.
Team Leader Connector
The team leader is the glue that binds a team and helps everyone stay cohesive. Since many workplaces are now fully remote or using a hybrid model, people are pulled in different directions while balancing their personal life with work. Leaders have to find ways to connect on every level, whether tactical, emotional, or social.
Prior to the pandemic, our ability to achieve team synchrony was taken for granted. When working in person, it was easier to stay on the same page with everyone in the same room. However, when working remotely, it’s easier to fall out of sync. Team leaders have to actively make sure everyone is working cohesively, but this doesn’t just happen on autopilot.
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Leadership Driven by Purpose
A guiding purpose is the north star that steers an organization’s work. It’s the “why” that shows what’s important and what you aim to achieve. When there is disruption and uncertainty on a global scale, being anchored to the “why” is vital.
Many leaders are now having to remind their teams of not only why their work is essential, but also why they are needed and valued as employees. Exactly how to convey this meaning will vary between companies and employees, but one thing is clear: it’s no longer enough to merely offer employment. To attract and retain talented, motivated employees, leaders must champion the higher meaning and purpose that underlies the work.
Coaching the Whole Person
Traditionally, managers focused on coaching workers to achieve performance goals for the quarter or year. Check-ins revolved around getting assignments done, tracking progress, and setting new goals. Increasingly, there is a growing, complementary focus on the person who performs the work. What use are performance goals if they’re suffering pervasive fatigue or burnout? Coaching the whole person means asking questions as simple as: Are you okay? Are your wellness goals met? Are you taking your vacation time? Are you establishing sufficient boundaries between work and your home life?
Coaching the whole person helps keep team members buoyant and builds vital resilience that actually enables the conditions for high performance.
In simpler times, leaders could resort to a key competency or signature characteristic to drive success. A leader could be successful by being primarily execution-oriented or, conversely, primarily strategy-oriented. However, when conditions become exponentially more complex and uncertain, unidimensional leaders are the first to fail. Faced with rapid change, leaders can’t just be good at strategy or execution — they need to be great at both. Great leaders right now must be dynamic, continuously shifting between competing demands and leadership strategies.
The act of leadership is a timeless challenge that has forever posed an arduous set of demands on the leader. And yet, the characteristics of those demands can vary. Pre-Pandemic, management zeitgeist commonly referred to VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) as the underlying context of the working world. However, the COVID 19 pandemic added an extra layer of complexity to everything. The rate of change went from frequent to always on.
The best leaders have learned to adapt by embracing a dynamic style of leadership, keeping team members ever-connected, and not hiding their own humanity in the process. Great leaders who coach their people toward results now find themselves coaching the whole person. Lastly, these leaders remind their employees with consistency the purpose and mission of the organization. They view their people not only as producers but also meaning makers.