Among the many business lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic, here’s one that’s crystal clear: In today’s volatile world, the ability to adapt quickly to rapidly changing circumstances is critical to success.
The instability of the past 18 months has made obvious what business experts and futurists have been saying for years – responsiveness and flexibility are essential skills in our fast-moving, unpredictable world.
What does this mean for managers and leaders? One important takeaway is that a strict command and control leadership style should be a thing of the past. A world of constant change and complexity demands a flexible response at all levels of the workforce, and management must lead the way.
Think about it. Leaders who are inflexible and controlling inhibit the ability of team members to flex their creativity independently and develop innovative solutions. This in turn impacts employee retention. The younger members of today’s workforce simply won’t stay put in organizations where leaders and managers rule with an iron fist.
Today’s managers and leaders must adopt a collaborative approach with team members, rather than dictate how they work, said executive and leadership coach Dr. Mickey Parsons, founder of The Workplace Coach, an executive coaching and leadership development firm. “In my experience, the most effective managers support their team members by giving them the tools they need, empowering them to develop their own solutions and coaching them to build on and develop their strengths.”
Great managers use leader-as-coach skills to create a culture of trust, Parsons said. They entrust team members with the authority and flexibility to approach projects as they see fit and in ways that suit their strengths and workstyles.
Empowering and trusting team members is not the same as hands-off leadership or management. Great managers and leaders do stay involved, but they don’t micromanage. Instead they check in with team members regularly, praising successes and providing support as needed. “In this way, they become true people leaders who influence others for greater success,” said Parsons, whose firm provides leadership training and partners with executives and managers to equip them with leadership skills suited to today’s business environment.
A recent article on effective leadership by The Center for Creative Leadership also emphasizes the importance of leaders fostering trust, especially in periods of change and disruption. “Leadership trust creates the stable foundation for employees and their organizations to flex, adapt, and thrive in times of continuous change,” the authors write.
“The behaviors that build trust are the very behaviors that manage change. Trust building helps teams step into ambiguity, stay committed to managing the unknown with confidence, and embrace change as an opportunity to learn, grow, and do great work together.”
To build this level of trust, leaders and managers need to promote a sense of safety and wellbeing in the workplace, including by connecting with team members authentically, with compassion and transparency.
The unstated premise here is that leaders have a huge influence on an organization’s culture and that workplace culture is pivotal in determining an organization’s ability to adapt to and stay ahead of change. The tone and message that leaders and managers communicate in their day-to-day interactions with team members will have an especially powerful impact, experts say.
Leaders who are new to this type of thinking or who recognize that they need to adjust their leadership style may need to take proactive steps to change. In addition to learning the skills for the kind of internal coaching that fosters an engaged and responsive workforce, they may need to develop their own emotional intelligence. This is where executive and leadership development coaching grounded in the tenets of positive psychology can have a profound impact, Parsons said.