Essential Leadership in the New World of Work

Since March, our world of work has changed more than any of us ever would have imagined. Now organizations are starting to explore a phased return to previous work arrangements. Last week I shared some thoughts on practices leaders should employ to help their teams successfully navigate their return.

But, for teams and organizations to thrive in the long run, leaders will need to embrace new skills and new ways of leading. And, while there are numerous areas you could focus on developing, here are three key capabilities that will help better prepare your team for future disruptions:

Authenticity – A recent literature review on team resilience suggests that team identity is a key enabler of teams that can successfully recover from disruption. Strong team identity requires a leader who engenders trust through authenticity. Authentic leaders are genuinely self-aware and inspire loyalty and trust by consistently being who they really are. And research has shown that authentic leadership is the single biggest predictor of employee satisfaction. As your team slowly returns to more typical ways of working, you have the opportunity to show up in a more authentic way. Practice openness and true humility. Be honest about the challenges and opportunities you are facing as a leader and as an organization. And, create a safe space for your team to do the same.

Personalization – One of the biggest takeaways from the rapid conversion to remote work is that individuals and teams can adapt and still deliver. The embedded assumption that teams and organization require standardization has been one of the drivers of slow adoption of remote work. Traditional leaders believe uniform working hours, a shared location, and a common approach to management  drive efficiency, optimize costs and ensure performance. But the rapid onset of the pandemic also revealed that standardized systems are fragile when faced with unexpected turbulence. Leading a resilient team will require you to tap into the full capacity of everyone on your team. That means being willing and able to adapt your leadership style to unlock the unique skills and talents your team brings to work. Which may require you to develop a broader array of techniques, skills, and approaches to leadership. Focus on expanding your toolkit, honing your curiosity, and preparing yourself to tailor your approach to what makes each member of your team unique.

Delegation v2.0 – Historically, delegation has been a core function of leadership and management. Effective delegation empowers and engages team members by demonstrating that you trust them to succeed. But, in the new, distributed world of work, traditional mental models of delegation aren’t going to be enough. Traditional approaches to delegation are the leaders way of maintaining control over who does work and how it gets done. Leaders are seen as master planners of the work required for the organization to succeed and make centralized decisions to control the work. But, as Josh Bersin notes, “resilience demands ‘distributed control with centralized coordination,’ not ‘centralized control with distributed execution.’ To build a resilient team, especially one that works remotely, leaders must move away from centralized definitions of what to do and how to do it, codified through static delegation. Instead, effective leaders will become coordinators for a group of vision aligned contributors who leverage their unique skills, expertise, and experiences to deliver mission-driven outcomes. This shift may be especially hard for leaders in highly bureaucratic organizations. These settings are designed to achieve results through structure, policy, and strict process controls. Shifting to an operating model where individuals are given space to approach work in ways that best align with their capabilities and preference and held accountable for the value they create will be a seismic shift. But, if you learn anything from the disruption of COVID-19, it should be that these old models are brittle and can’t deliver the outcomes you need when faced with black swan events. So, dedicating yourself to creating a new operating model for your team, including a new way of delegating should be a top priority.

Why these skills matter – There are a lot of really good reasons to invest in yourself and build new leadership skills for the post-COVID world. And, the sheer volume of recommendations on which skills matter most is overwhelming. But, when you boil it all down, I think it comes down to this: Culture will be the key competitive advantage for organizations moving forward. And leaders who want their organizations to thrive must focus on building the strong constructive norms that encourage and enable people to achieve their best. Improving your ability to lead with authenticity, tailor your approach to accommodate the unique needs of each individual, and rethinking your approach to delegation are essential elements on the road to creating a constructive culture for your team. And, there’s no time like the present for taking the first step on your self-development journey.

Tim Bowden is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. He is partner at Gotham Government Services, and is most energized when he’s exploring how the intersection of culture, people, and strategy drive business results. For nearly 20 years he has collaborated with clients in the public, private, and non-profit sectors to address mission-critical challenges in the areas of culture, leadership development, and learning. Additionally, Tim has experience in the design and analysis of survey-based measures of culture, employee engagement, and interpersonal skills. He has provided executive advisory, learning, and organizational culture programs for the Marine Corps Systems Command, Treasury Executive Institute, Department of Labor, and the Naval Sea Systems Command.

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