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Understanding the New Normal for Leadership

For too many decades, the word leadership meant a title and a box on an org chart somewhere. Yes, there were people who truly understood leadership and exercised it effectively, but big business managers failed, for the most part, to operate with true leadership principles.

Before we move on, remember one thing – leading is about cultivating leadership within others, not just getting them to follow your lead. So, if you’re in it to tell people what to do, you’re missing the whole point.

COVID-19 brought everyone back to the ground and humanized leaders, forcing them to embrace vulnerability. No matter how powerful you are, you’re not invincible so, it’s okay to share with your team what you’re struggling with, ask for help, and be more open in your communication. Do that, and they will follow suit and collaborate to work more effectively and efficiently. We have a new normal for leadership.

Having endured the pandemic’s impacts, people have started re-evaluating their lives; the time they spend in different ways, and who they want to spend that precious time with. We have shifted from seeking work-life balance where things get juggled to accommodate one for the other. Rather we are driving to work-life harmony where everything operates as a whole.

That, in and of itself, is a radical challenge for leaders. The authority that may have come from your position fundamentally doesn’t matter anymore. Your power to hire and fire is no longer a threat to the newly empowered employee who has made a decision to be a different kind of employee. The decisions are about living life as a whole, not a segmented daily grind of commuting from home to work and back again.

Data from the pandemic shows business productivity, in general, went up, not down as a result of remote working. While some managers cringe at the effort it took to manage a remote team, the employees, for the most part, embraced the responsibility and thrived.

For all practical purposes, we have already returned to an equilibrium of the employment bell curve. In that way of thinking, we have some workers, maybe five to ten percent, who consistently excel vs the few who are tough to manage. And there is a large headcount in the middle who can reliably produce their work without too much management attention one way or the other.

In the Meantime

In the meantime, the expectation of leaders has shifted to be more ‘human’ for lack of a better word. Here are five ways that show up:

BE OPEN AND VULNERABLE
The modern workforce wants open-door policies with a fully accessible human sitting inside. The pandemic also highlighted the importance of emotional intelligence and empathy, creating a crash course on modern leadership styles and forcing leaders to change how they navigate their operations. Self-disclosure, compassion, and consideration were terms almost unheard of in the corporate world. However, now, they’re the guiding principles of this emerging leadership trend.

FOSTER AN ENVIRONMENT OF LEADERSHIP
Being a leader is not necessarily about controlling everything. It’s also about delegating and assigning control, autonomy, or authority to others. To be successful, you’ll need the services and loyalty of others. Therefore, you’ll need to recruit members from your team to ensure you get where your organization needs to go.

Every organization has front-line soldiers ready to fight for them, and as an authentic leader, you need to scout, train, and nourish them in light of your culture. So, they have the attitude to do the same in the future. Elite teams have leaders at every organizational level whose job is not to serve as authoritative figures but to influence and inspire people into improving their productivity.

These leaders in the ranks are those fellow employees who always “have your back.” And everyone knows it. A leader at the top has to identify and nurture the others who can fill these unofficial roles.

BE OPEN TO FEEDBACK
Just because you’re in charge doesn’t mean you know everything. Therefore, you need to be open to feedback and accept the fact that your team can offer valuable insight and solve complex problems. A great leader will never be afraid to ask their team to evaluate their performance so they can grow further.

I coach my leaders to invite routine feedback about key areas they have individually chosen to strengthen in their own leadership toolkit. An example is to decide to be a more empathetic listener. Invite your team to give feedback when they feel you are not listening.

BE A RENAISSANCE MAN FOR YOUR TEAM
Great leaders are servants whose job is to facilitate their teams with everything they need to carry out their tasks, innovate, and transform. As a renaissance man, your job is to possess surface intelligence in different subject matters and steer the ship while your team focuses on their specific roles.

Knowing the scope of your work as well as the organization around you can help paint a bigger picture for your team to embrace. Sharing that picture in team meetings will give your team something to get excited about.

GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY
The best way to lead is to lead from the front and not just give directions from the sidelines. For example, instead of sending your marketing team to local outlets for product promotion, you can accompany them and lead from the ground. Not only does this boost the overall team morale, but it also improves your brand reputation as your target audience sees a grounded individual, not a boss calling the shots from the 30th floor.

One caveat here. If your team is already highly motivated and experienced, you might be able to lead from the back, allowing them to run free within your prescribed boundaries.

SUMMARY

If you are in a management role and have not yet opened the door to leadership theory, now may be the best time to start. If you have already begun a leadership journey, you know that growth along the way involves new study, coaching, mentoring, and self-evaluation on a regular basis.

I like to say leadership is not a destination but a journey. There is always room to grow.

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