Post-Covid leadership styles: Piloting the paradigm shift
The pandemic has catalysed many changes in management, what attributes in future leaders are rising as a result?
The pandemic has catalysed many changes in management, principally what attributes have risen in value for future leaders and who those leaders might be in the new world of work.
Rise of the introverts
Remote working forced many work places to rely on technology with the majority of its workforce , a subtle digital democratisation has occurred, as quieter voices and introverted personalities have been given the opportunity to rise to the surface. With “93% of companies in a Mercer study reporting that productivity has stayed the same or increased since employees began working remotely”, companies are looking to dial into those attributes and talent that will allow them to capitalise on this on a more permanent basis.
Extroverts, who usually maintain a level of visibility that can see them more readily promoted over their colleagues, are less likely to dominate proceedings in a more level playing field offered by hybrid working. A practice many companies are either adopting permanently or on a mid-term basis in order to adapt to a post-pandemic world. More likely this change will be a permanent one as “major research conducted for the report found that, for 87 per cent of respondents, Covid has profoundly affected business and teams” (CEMS, Guide: Leadership in a post-Covid world, 2020 ). The majority of respondents believe that change will be "long in duration, and possibly permanent.” This could usher in a leadership revolution, as bite (outputs) matter more than bark. Particularly important as in a hybrid work structure, leaders won’t be able to rely on management visibility, or presenteeism, purely by walking around. Solely working the room doesn’t have the same effect if half your staff is working remotely on any given day.
Some studies, such as one that looked at extroversion in the workplace from a multiple countries perspective, found that extroverts are more likely to rise to leadership positions due to a greater motivation to achieve external goals, such as a promotion or increased salary. These studies found that extrovert’s positive outlook can make them more resilient to stress and more likely to “bounce back from failure, both recognized qualities of strong leaders” (Ledesma, 2014).
However, according to Susan Cain, author of the Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t stop talking published in 2012 , "society as a whole undervalues introverts, particularly as leaders. She argues that “without introverts we wouldn’t have leadership achievements such as the Apple computer, or theory of relativity - Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein were both introverts.”
Research shows that introverts can bring a great deal to the table in leadership positions: They are more likely to listen and process the ideas of their team; they consider ideas deeply before acting; they are humble and more likely to credit their team for ideas and performance; they express themselves and their ideas well in writing and because their motivation generally comes from within, are less likely to compromise performance in seeking rewards such as money or power.
Introverted leaders have a great deal to offer in our complex and increasingly chaotic world: The creativity and staying power of introverts are vital to solving long term problems such as climate change or the increased possibility of worldwide viruses such as Covid19, which emerge due to complex social and ecological factors.
When we referred earlier to the leadership revolution it is also because introverts recognize fellow introverts.
“Introverts makeup 40-60% of the workforce if they are undervalued or not recognised, as is often the case if their leader is an extrovert, they are more likely to leave.”
(The power of quiet leadership, Dr Jacqueline Baxter, Open University)
With introverts in charge not only will more of their kind rise to the top, more of them will remain in a workforce when lead by those similar to themselves.
CEMS, Guide: Leadership in a post-Covid world, 2020
Fig.1 Demonstrates that sentiment and values are shifting to new leadership styles. Clear vision, communication and results are still a priority, however empathy and resilience have had the biggest value changes post-Covid. Where harder skills were prized before Covid-19, softer, more humane attributes and competencies have accrued greater value in the wake of the crisis.
Trial and error
While companies grapple with new WFH strategies it will be important for leaders to acknowledge that they don't have all the answers. As their companies transition to hybrid working models, they will still be trying to discover what the right longer-term working model (the one that works for most employees) will be. It will also be important for leaders to signal that they hope to make their employees partners in designing the future of how their companies work. If current evidence is anything to go by then it is clear there is no one-size fits all answer to capturing a successful post-Covid hybrid workforce.
“Embracing a test-and-learn culture will entail a real mindset shift for some leaders. They will need to get comfortable with the fact that a clear solution may not be immediately apparent—the big answers may not emerge for years.”
(McKinsey, It’s time for leaders to get real about hybrid, 2021).
As “more than half (54%) of employees surveyed from around the world would consider leaving their job post-COVID-19 pandemic if they are not afforded some form of flexibility in where and when they work” according to the EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey, it is crucial to move away from traditional leadership styles and use styles that will best navigate this exciting period of flux. The new attitudes towards work have moved from “tried and tested” to “agile and resilient”. There will be a need for faster decision making and greater resilience from leaders, and agility will be required from employees to seek out growth opportunities. Organisations and leaders must build psychological safety for their people to be their best selves and to thrive under pressure, help their employees adapt by providing a set of guiding principles and criteria for evaluating solutions and ideas. They must embrace a culture where learning from failure is seen as equally valuable as learning from success, where people are empowered to experiment, try new approaches, build new skills and accept responsibility without blame.
Mercer, Global Survey#6: Globally, how are companies flexing for the future and returning to the workplace?
The Mercer study, reported 63.58% of respondents expressed that it will be the skill and/or attitude of management that will make or break a successful implementation of a flexible workforce. Meaning that it is essential for companies who wish to adapt best to the new world of work to ensure that the right people and culture traits are leading the charge. The most immediate consequences of failure here will be a loss of managerial talent as EY report that “The job roles most likely to move jobs include managers/leaders, those with technology or finance roles, and caregivers. Those most likely to stay in their current roles include baby boomers, individuals with 10+ years of tenure, and those in government or education roles.” (EY, More than half of employees globally would quit their jobs if not provided post-pandemic flexibility, EY survey finds, 2021)
The genie is out of the bottle. The pandemic forced a grand work experiment on all of us and it has changed things forever. The anticipated productivity decline linked with Hybrid working has not martialized. Combine this with the new appeal of a hybrid work model for most office goers, plus the lack of an instant “back to pre-Covid normal” switch, the new world of work needs leadership styles to compliment and pilot through this paradigm shift.
Discussed here were the two main management styles we have seen emerge to prominence in the post-Covid world; Introverted managers and trial and error/learn management.
The conditions for the rise of introverts have ultimately been created as businesses pivot out of necessity to a more performance driven mindset and as presenteeism was revealed to be an un-essential hang-up from a previous era. The impossibility for most labour forces to be physically visible in the office has created space in leadership for more introverts to rise to the surface and bring other introverts with them. This leadership revolution may allow businesses to find new strengths and to increase the diversity of role model leadership styles.
In addition, the demand for a more flexible work environment has in tandem pushed managers to be more flexible. Working from home and the persisting complications/opportunities from the pandemic means that leader needs to adopt an agile and resilient management style in an uncharted period. Leaders need both to both learn from and embrace the failures in trying to capture and optimize a balance in the new world of work. New leaders need to make sure that their workforce is part of the journey to avoid employee frustration and labour turnover. Never before has the exact answer been more uncertain and success will require backing of the business from both top to bottom.
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Author -Scott Brent
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