The economy is recovering, and people are starting to come out of hiding. Offices are reopening, live events are being scheduled, and business travel is resuming. And yet, even as we “get back to normal,” everything has changed. You can sense it in the panicked whispers about the “great resignation” and when retailers talk about how radically consumers have changed. You even hear it from the real estate industry. There is a tangible transformation occurring that suggests a new normal. No matter where you look, the world is in flux and so is every industry. To lead a new workforce and accommodate a new consumer, leaders must change, too.
The Necessity of a New Frame of Mind
In Hyper-Learning: How to Adapt to the Speed of Change, author Edward D. Hess writes, “As we move into recovery, leaders will have to deploy a whole new mindset and a whole new skill set.” While this is not all driven by COVID-19, Hess explains, “the pandemic has accelerated the need for a new kind of leader.”
Hess’s view on the future of leadership is applicable to every industry. Ultimately, leaders must create companies in which employees feel safe, heard, and have their needs met – and if you don’t do that, you will not be able to attract or keep top talent, compete effectively, or survive.
Soft Skills Rise in the Post-Pandemic World
One of the most important skills that will be needed as we adapt to the changing world are those that are referred to as “soft skills.” Soft skills are not new to leadership, but they are certainly more necessary now than ever. In this Forbes article, Amy Blaschka identifies five ways that soft skills can make you a better leader:
Lead with clarity and consistency
Practice active listening
Become a creative problem-solver
Use empathy to put others first
Hess explains that mastery of these skills “allows you to quiet your ego, stay open to the best ideas, and connect with others in meaningful ways.” They can also, “in times of great chaos, [help] you tune out the noise so you can do the kind of high-level critical thinking that allows you to make smart decisions.”
Be Proactive and Embrace Change as a Way of Doing Business
When big things come down (vaccine mandates, for example), instead of reacting hastily, be thinking ahead to how the changes will impact your employees (emotionally, financially, socially) and how you can help quash their concerns. But it’s not just for COVID-19-related changes that being proactive matters. Consider other ways your teams may be impacted: market shifts, changes in technology, disruptive competitors. Overcome concerns and fears by providing information, training, and support before it’s needed.
Operational excellence will be table stakes in the recovery and beyond. Every company will be in the innovation business. Every organization will need to ‘skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been,’ as Wayne Gretzky so famously said.
Create a Culture of Collaboration
None of us succeed without the help of others. Embracing that idea and making it a part of your company culture will help foster collaboration and creativity among your teams. As a leader, sit back and listen rather than deliver edicts. Ask questions, seek advice, and truly listen.
Leaders first need to overcome their own tendency to seek confirmation for what they believe. This means acknowledging that they need others to help them see solutions. They also need to behave in ways that show they respect the human dignity of others, and make sure all team members do the same.
As leaders, we have to recognize that the world is changing rapidly – and it will not return to the pre-pandemic state of being.
Successful leaders will need to adapt and change with the changing world.