What will leadership demand in the new era?

Over the last year, millions of people have become ill and millions have lost their lives. With so many lives lost and the normal way of living of people changed, businesses have also been impacted. The change was so fast that leadership had a very limited time plan for the change. However, given how the businesses have progressed in the last year or so, one can conclude the leadership has done a phenomenal job. When the pandemic started, the employees were forced to work from home, the customers were not ready to spend, the lockdown slowed down the supply chain, and a lot of other things that directly affected the economy and permanently changed the way businesses operated. Leaders of today and tomorrow are now inclined towards finding innovative but holistic ways to improve the organization as a whole over time. Rajnish Kumar, chairman of the State Bank of India, put his thoughts on the situation, “This will be a true inflexion point…in terms of implications, it will be as big an event as World War II. And whatever we learn through this process, it must not go to waste.”The Third Era Of Management Is CommencingA Harvard Business Review article written by Rita McGrath suggests that there have been three eras of management. The first was the Industrial Revolution, which was execution. The second was the knowledge era, which was expertise. Knowledge was the most valuable commodity at that time. Empathy is playing a major role in the third era we are entering. As we enter the post-knowledge era, there are two brand-new leadership qualities that we must develop:

  • Making decisions (when too much information is available and analysis paralysis occurs), and
  • A deep sense of emotional conviction (in contrast to the overemphasis on logical decisions in earlier eras)

Today, we are amid another fundamental rethinking of what organizations are and for what purpose they exist. The quest for empathy extends to customers, certainly, but also changes the nature of the employment contract, and the value proposition for new employees. It is widely believed that we are now ready for a new era of business thinking and practice. This would mean figuring out what management looks like when work is done through networks rather than through lines of command when “work” itself is tinged with emotions.

Let us look at what all things today’s leaders have to do to be good leaders.

Creating unity within the company

These are tough times and everyone looks at the leaders for a solution. When the pandemic started last year, no one was aware of how to handle the situation of the lockdown and work from home. The work culture has always been around, but operating the entire organization from home is a different ball game altogether. The situation demanded from leaders to come up with an action plan and fast to mitigate the negative impact of the state of affairs. Given the unprecedented speed and scale of the current pandemic, several remarkable feats were achieved by organizations, but it is still remarkable how they have been able to accomplish it. For most, it happened because of inbuilt unity.

Use time in a better way

Some CEOs have noted that remote work and bans on travel have opened up banks of time that allow them to focus more on what really matters. As Natarajan Chandrasekaran, chairman of the Tata Group, says, “[As a consultant,] I used to fly to meet a customer, even if it took all day or more, for a one-hour meeting. Now I know that the amount of time that goes into travelling is not necessary. That’s the way people used to live, but I think that that will come down now.” The leaders have to be careful how they use their time - a discussion with the other team members and senior management now and then can lead to a creative opening. Earlier, leaders spent a lot of time travelling but now that has changed, they need to use the time to have a discussion with the team and try to come up with new innovative ideas. There is an opportunity to reimagine how employees and employers can create an ecosystem where everyone is given a fair chance to thrive even during struggling times. Training and mentorship are at the top of the priority list.

Think about the well-being of employees

The leaders of the new era are required to be more empathetic towards the whereabouts of their employees. How the employees are working and in what condition should be taken into account followed by the necessary measures to make their working environment suitable. In the current times, motivation will play a major role in the overall productivity of employees, and a good leader must step up to keep the teams highly motivated. This can be achieved by engaging employees with routine activities that make them feel connected to the other team members as well as the organization. Mental health is something leaders have to consider while creating new policies in the new era. Show up differently: At his recent top-300 executive meeting, Verizon Communications CEO Hans Vestberg shared a visual showing how he’s spent his time over the past three months during the crisis and how his energy has changed: “Ultimately, my job is to give energy, empowerment, and vision to the organization. If I’m down, I’m not really using the only asset I have as a leader. And I have bad days like anybody else. I tell my leaders, ‘You need to self-assess so you know what you’re good at, and double down on that in your own leadership.’”

Smart Risk-Taking

Leadership has always hinged on the ability to take calculated, well-reasoned risks. Leaders mustn’t confuse it with genuine reckless risk-taking which involves high risk with low potential rewards. Founder and CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos have been quoted as saying, “I knew that when I was 80, I was not going to regret having tried this…I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that. I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried. And I knew that would haunt me every day.” This skill, however, has become even more vital in the modern era of work. As a result, the corporate landscape is far from static and is experiencing considerable uncertainty. Opportunities will always come along that require leaders to take risks and venture into the unknown, which means that they must be prepared to act on them.

The unusual is the new usual

The leaders of the new era will have to deal with work like never before. Leaders are now consulting and coordinating with suppliers, partners, employees, and governments to keep the pace of the business. They have to look beyond skills and experience and look at other attributes and qualities of characters. As Alain Bejjani, CEO of MAF, states, “I think we’re moving from a world of specialists toward a world of generalists. Leaders need to adapt to different circumstances, and generalists can succeed when life is fast and volatile. We will need more generalists to lead in disruptive times, whether they’re caused by technological shifts or this unimagined pandemic.” The question is - once the things normalize and return to the usual, will leaders go back to operating as they did before? What if things don't normalize shortly, will leaders keep on scaling their capabilities to grow their business? Only time will give answers to these questions. However, the truth is that leadership evolves as a concept over time, which drives innovation in management. A positive mental map should be sought out by both managers and employees to develop extraordinary results through their collaborative action.

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