As pandemic uncertainty looms and no organization is quite sure what the return to normal might look like, leadership post-Covid is going to require a new set of skills that were not necessarily in demand—much less even considered—just 18 months ago.
While some of these might seem obvious, others aren’t quite so. It’s safe to say that stronger emotional intelligence and communication skills are extremely in demand, as teams might still be remote or moving towards hybrid environments.
Further, employees are feeling “Covid fatigue” and are more stressed out than ever before. Seventy percent of people in the global workforce say this has been the most stressful 12 months of their lives, with 78 percent saying their mental health has been affected, according to a joint study conducted by software provider Oracle and HR consulting firm Workplace Intelligence and reported in SHRM.
“Fear, uncertainty, loneliness, isolation, disruption—people feel like life is out of control,” says Darcy Gruttadaro, director of the Center for Workplace Mental Health at the American Psychiatric Association Foundation in Washington, D.C.
Additionally, we’ll have a look at what learning leaders can do to train leaders and help them acquire and implement these competencies for the benefit of not only their smaller, immediate teams but also the organization as a whole.
Consistent and reliable messaging
This might seem like a no-brainer for any leader, but under the pandemic, consistent, reliable, and perhaps most importantly, fact-based communications are in demand more than ever.
This is because employees, much like the general public, are worn out. They are confused, fatigued, and impatient with a 24/7 Internet-based news cycle disseminating at best, too much information to easily digest and, at worst, conflicting and ambiguous information that can spur negative behaviours.
If the leaders within an organization are doing the same for their employees, a lack of trust can easily result. As such, leadership post-Covid can include the ability to choose information wisely, present it with facts, and distribute it in a way that garners trust.
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Active, even technical, presence
Working from home or remote locations enables invisibility. However, employees need leaders who do their best to be visible.
Finding the right mix of communication tools and their frequency of use is key. Scheduling more or even fewer Zoom meetings is not necessarily the answer; leaders can lean on smaller, less obvious digital signals to inform team members that their presence is known.
Seeking feedback from employees, asking how they wish to remain in contact with their manager, is important. Leaders may also need to lean on IT to better understand the messaging and alert options that are available across browsers, devices, and apps, whether company or employee-owned. This might seem trivial, but a more thorough understanding of the communications options that are available and how a team and its leadership wish to remain in contact is imperative in order for leaders to remain in touch in today’s dynamic workplace.
Empathy, above all
Simply put, the ability to sense the feelings of others is perhaps the single, most important leadership competency post-Covid.
Whereas emotions in the office had traditionally been frowned down upon in years past, seen as something personal and inappropriate in a professional setting, the current moment requires a reversal of this thinking. Both employees and leaders alike are recognizing that empathy and related emotional intelligence skills are more difficult traits to develop—and express—than previously thought.
Empathy might be something difficult to train for. Leaders who aren’t naturally empathetic should surround themselves with others who can help fill that gap.
“Unfortunately, just a few tone-deaf, insensitive responses or decisions can have tragic consequences with an organization’s understandably fragile psyche during this time,” notes Dana Brownlee in Forbes.
With so many of these soft skills in demand, how can learning leaders train leaders who already possess the technical, industry, professional, or subject matter expertise that is most likely outside of these newly in-demand skills?
Borrow (or steal, but only if you must)
A query on the keyword “leadership” on online learning supersite Udemy returns 880 results. Clearly, there is no shortage of interest in the topic these days.
With titles like “The Science of Leadership” and “Communication Skills for Leadership,” and some costing less than $20, you might have found a great place to start.
If you are building your own courses, some market research into existing leadership courses can help inspire or validate the content that you wish to present internally.
Look inward, create an internal leadership community
Now is the best time to reap what you’ve sown regarding the culture of learning within the four walls of your organization.
Your best leaders have already been doing what they can to keep employees productive and to manage precious resources within the limitations and uncertainty of the past 18 months. Such leaders may have already been developing their own set of skills, even if was via trial and error.
Create an internal workgroup to uncover best practices, develop cheat sheets, and deliver support tools so that all of your leaders can bring their best selves to their teams and to the entire organization every day.
The image of a strong, effective leader has evolved and will continue to evolve. Organizations need to be flexible yet also reliant on a set of support tools that work best for the organization.
Some qualities and skills in our leaders have always been important, but this year has turned the tables.
“Transparency, seeing ourselves and each other as people first, a willingness to adapt, and an openness to listen— these are the new characteristics of strong leadership that will determine who thrives in this new economy,” notes consultant Erin Joy in Chief Learning Officer magazine.
If your organization’s leadership training is in need of an overhaul, check out this eBook on upskilling, reskilling, and how to implement these programs effectively: