What if... a New Type of Leadership has Emerged?

August 25, 2020 Hannah Kenney

future leadership

Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for all. Examples of successful leaders have been seen in countries across the world. These are the leaders who have been visible, have demonstrated decisiveness in the face of limited information and have possessed a greater empathy and ability to adapt to the changing world.

Do these qualities form the foundation for leadership in the ‘new normal’?

The future demands more visible leaders

The speed of change seen in the early weeks of response to the pandemic required rapid-fire communication and greater leadership visibility. Employee safety was paramount and, at a time of fast-moving news headlines and guidance, trust in our leaders became even more important.

Virtual meetings and all staff communications were moved online and to video. Suddenly, organizational leaders became more visible. Employees have likely heard more from their leaders in the early weeks of the pandemic response than in the preceding 10 years. 

This worked well: 67% of employees trusted their employer to keep them informed - as highlighted in Aon’s Pulse Survey of organizations in the US and Europe.

However, companies should be wary of communication fatigue. Particularly if there is a lack of coordination in messaging regionally, by team or by business unit. There is a very real opportunity now to be more proactive and strategic in communications. While weekly or daily updates might not be long-lasting, they are an opportunity to re-evaluate and set the tone for your own new normal.

The future demands more human, holistic leaders

Leaders who might not have been previously accessible are no longer travelling and have more time for communications.

Working from home gives a sneak peek into their home life. Managers are seen in their home office or spare room or at their garage desk and are in more relaxed attire. We get to see what life away from the office looks like, with pets and kids making frequent cameos on video meetings. Office and living backdrops are displayed for many to see. Some choose an analog green sheet in the garage or a fancy view of the Manhattan skyline. It all adds up to making our leaders more ‘human’.

The new normal may see the façade of stuffy suits pushed aside and formal in-person meetings replaced with more casual virtual calls. Leaders will rethink the skills they need to motivate, inspire and manage their teams.

Humility and empathy are more important. The leader who is comfortable with not having all the answers will be the person who is seen as more relatable and human. They are leading, not through directing, but by enabling their people to make decisions, clearing obstacles out of the way.

Reward strategies for leaders have started to shift from solely achievement of core financial metrics to include incentivizing other behaviors such sharing and collaboration, in addition to the recent influx of focus on environmental or social responsibility.

The future continues to be remote and digital

The shift to remote and digital working has happened. What has been talked about for years has become a reality. Leaders have become virtual team leaders whether they like it or not – and this will require a new behavior set to be developed.

The observable and specific competencies required of the future digital leader can now be identified and measured using Aon’s Digital Leadership Model.

If new behaviors are needed, it will be more important than ever to assess and determine who is capable to lead in digital teams – and those who may require additional support.

No longer can the water cooler conversation take place for check-ins and catch-ups. Leaders must find new ways to check engagement and progress and replace the ‘stop by’. A corner office is no longer the hallmark of seniority; leaders will need to establish credibility virtually.

 The future is one of career rock climbing not ladder climbing

The old system of rewards and career progressions is changing, as working models are re-evaluated. Moving up the ladder and acquiring more direct reports is being replaced by sideways career moves and a new, flatter organization in which each person has greater visibility to contribute. Compensation strategies will need to shift to reward the correct behavior – whatever those may be for specific companies.

Defining new career paths for progression following different routes, such as project lead, team lead and disciplinary lead, will continue to grow. We see this as rock climbing rather than ladder climbing. Individuals will take greater ownership of their careers, seeking out their own paths and creating opportunities for development. They will need tools to help them. Tools such as Aon’s Pathfinder system which helps the person realize their strengths and how these can be transferred to other job roles – as well as highlighting gaps between current and required competencies.

As we continue through this pandemic, there will be economic and workforce shifts that disappear. There will also be some that will remain well past COVID-19. It will be essential to have the right leaders, with the right skillsets and the right motivation for continued success.

Reach out to us if you want to talk about how you can identify and develop these people and reward them going forward.

About the Author

Hannah Kenney

Hannah Kenney is a Director in Aon’s Human Capital Solutions division. She has nearly ten years of consulting experience on a variety of total rewards and compensation issues. She helps lead the firm’s consulting efforts to develop products and services for companies experiencing technology disruption or undertaking digital transformation in their workforce.

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