As leaders, our working world has shifted significantly over the past few years, and how we adapt to these evolving conditions is vital for individual and team performance. There is no quick win for leading through turbulent times, but increasing awareness and capacity is an excellent place to start. In this article, Impact consultant, Stuart Kelly, highlights different areas leaders should focus on to adapt to the working world of 2022.
Adopt a human-centred approach
As our white paper explains, ‘Human-centric organisations are places where people and productivity thrive because they are built from a clear moral centre and are aligned toward their highest human purpose. They are forces for good in service to the planet, our communities, and our economies.’ Human-centred organisations embrace human connection by prioritising and facilitating quality dialogue and people-to-people interaction, both internally and externally. They are also adept at new learning, and they understand that this involves everyone in the organisation learning, collaborating, and growing together. In this sense, organisations that adopt a human-centred approach learn faster and adapt quicker than their competitors, carried to success by the growth and transformation of their people. Human-centred leaders embrace these values and prioritise the learning and development of their people, treating them as human individuals rather than just cogs in a machine.
Embrace leadership action
The critical change leaders must make to adapt to the workplace of 2022 is to be able to take leadership action when needed. At its core, leadership action is about awareness. It’s about leaders noticing their environment, feelings, intuition, and what others might be feeling. The ability to decide what to do with this information and act upon it is vital for everyone involved. Equity means that all team members feel a sense of belonging and value; it makes sure people can bring their real identity to the workplace. This framing of leadership upholds inclusivity and equity by reminding us that leadership can, and should, come from anywhere.
Cultivating leadership action is also about providing the resources and the support necessary so that your people can take this action themselves. Engage in courageous and difficult conversations as a leader in your sphere of influence. Modernise the concept of leadership for people by giving them the space and time to notice more and to act on what they see. This idea will allow them to become an inclusive ally and advocate in the workplace.
Achieve better work-life integration and resilience
Leadership is never easy; it’s demanding and often involves lifestyle sacrifices. Cultivating the right work-life balance for peak performance requires self-awareness, effort, and ongoing practice. In this sense and balance, resilience is also an essential quality for every leader. Resilience is the ability to change before the need for change is necessary. A resilient leader has greater alertness, energy, and self-awareness and leads with enthusiasm, purpose, and authenticity. Resilient teams and organisations are built on the solid foundation of a healthy, supportive culture. Making a positive change in that culture starts with you – whether you’re in the C-suite, a cubicle, or are active in your community, you lead from your chair, wherever that chair may be.
Cultivate better collaboration for teams
As we move into the hybrid world of work, leaders will need to intentionally craft team networks that drive performance, innovation, and engagement. Conventional team principles need to be reframed. Currently, people belong to too many teams, in groups that are often too large (especially for the virtual world) and form and reform far too frequently. These issues have far-reaching consequences, hindering organisational and employee performance, creating obstacles to innovation and creativity, decreasing employee engagement, and contributing to stress, overload, and burnout.
The concept of ‘teaming’ applies to working together interdependently. Increasingly, performance will be delivered through networks that form more rapidly and effectively inside and outside of these efforts. Leaders will need to improve how they cultivate these networks, with specific attention to collaboration patterns, quality of interaction, and the effectiveness of the ties linking their teams to the ecosystems in which they reside.
Be curious, always
Traditionally, leaders have been trained to focus on a business issue, find the answer, and direct employees on what to do. While these embedded assumptions won’t change overnight, there is a fascinating shift occurring right now as the issues at hand grow in scope and complexity. Employees increasingly expect leaders to take activist roles in response to the climate crisis, modern slavery, and race and gender equity. Leaders can’t have all the answers to these global challenges, and attempting to direct employees using their partial perspective would be foolish. Leaders need to be comfortable with not having all the answers in the new working world. They must cultivate dialogue with humility, an appreciation of the power and how to exercise it, and an insatiable curiosity about what they don’t see and don’t know. In the name of innovation, learning, and the capacity for human flourishing, leaders must create spaces for dialogue in systems that try to squeeze it out, and they must be comfortable asking difficult questions. Empathy is a powerful tool to help unlock what might be going on in someone else’s shoes. Stay curious and learn as you go.
Foster respect by building connections
Most of us view work as more than just the money it earns us, but we often default to a transactional approach when building and maintaining our working relationships. People need to feel respected, valued, and acknowledged, and this comes down to how we relate to one another as individuals. Positive interpersonal relating is at the core of our sense of self. The most successful leaders will demonstrate genuine curiosity about what their employees find meaningful. This behaviour can start with something as simple as asking them what they think about a situation. There is no substitute for building positive human connection, and there is no action more potent than paying attention.
Empower peer coaching
In the past two years, leaders have shouldered considerable additional stress and responsibility, especially around their teams’ social and emotional wellbeing. This increased burden has led to historic levels of burnout for managers and their teams, whose needs as individuals are not being met. Many of these social and emotional needs can be addressed through peer relationships and support networks, allowing leaders to prioritise team needs without burning out. Peers can better express empathy and compassion, solve problems, and make time for one another. Rather than solving the need, leaders should set up the systems to help their teams help each other. In doing this, they create a more robust, more psychologically safe environment for their teams, in which people can share their challenges and stressors openly, without fear of judgement.
Leadership isn't always about leading from the front and asking others to follow. It can be a collaborative process where you represent and champion your team. As a leader, you are still a peer, and you can share the same feelings as your teammates. The power of being vulnerable is still underestimated in the working world, and the most successful leaders are those who will utilise their vulnerability to strengthen human connection and empathy. Don't force anything that is not honest or true; be human and go from there.
In the turbulent, interdependent, and hyperconnected working world of 2022, we must modernise and adapt our understanding of leadership. By prioritising human connection, cultivating leadership action and awareness, fostering resilience and curiosity, and empowering people to work with and support each other, leaders can catalyse the growth and transformation of both their people and their organisation.
Stuart Kelly is an Associate at Impact UK.