Making predictions is a thankless job. If you’re right, everyone says that it was obvious. If not, you may lose credibility. Predictions are especially difficult to make when you are in the eye of the storm, but the alternative — having no idea where you’re going — is worse. To position your organization for the future, you need a sense of direction.
We offer you this sense of direction by focusing on the undeniable shifts that we witness in the environment. They are broad, and their impact is profound on work, workers and the workplace. Below are the three shifts we consider most relevant for the near-term future (although we will undoubtedly feel their effect for years to come) and the skills required to adapt and thrive in the new environment.
|Shifts:||The Shifts Affect:||New Capabilities Required:||The Shifts Bring Into Focus These Transversal Skills|
|From …||… to|
|Seeking stability||Being ready for change||The impact of context||● Meaning creator
● Safety provider
|● Paradoxical thinker
● Nimble decision-maker
● People developer
|Working at the office||Working anywhere||How work happens||● Performance orchestrator
● Culture builder
|Celebrating diversity||Fostering inclusion||How we relate to each other||● Interpersonal sensor
● Community manager
This table is not comprehensive, but it can help you focus on the critical skills we believe will be essential for your organization in the near future. What we are certain will persist are those “transversal skills” — the skills proven to lead to results across contexts, cultures and times.
Now, let’s explore the skills that your organization needs to win.
The Skills to Thrive in the New Environment
1. Meaning Creator
Turning down the noise is a key leadership task of the past decade. From YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok to TV (yes, some still watch it!), social and mass media revel in chaos and negativity. Novel and bad news sells and is shared, but it produces cognitive and emotional overload.
Leaders, therefore, must cut through the noise and make sense of it — for themselves and for their followers. Noise-canceling makes space for deeper attention, connection, reflection and future-orientation. Filling that space with sense leads to greater meaning and hope, releasing engagement and high performance.
2. Safety Provider
Signaling safety is also a key leadership task. Martin Seligman, the “father” of positive psychology, established that stress causes much less damage when people feel safe than it does when they feel threatened. Leaders have the responsibility of making others feel safer, which they can do by providing clarity and predictability.
Nobody but charlatans can predict what will happen in the future, but leaders can create safety by focusing on what they and their employees can do now and by providing honest reassurance for the near term. Doing so will reduce their anxiety and help them focus on their work.
3. Performance Orchestrator
In a world where the work (knowledge work) and the workers (traveling or working away from the office) are invisible, leaders can’t command and control. Instead, performance orchestration is paramount. Performance orchestration means establishing direction. It requires that leaders trust others to do their job and act quickly when they don’t.
Performance orchestrators enable others to make decisions, because they have given them the skills to do so. They create opportunities for others to step up, because they have set boundaries and removed performance barriers. In doing so, leaders must provide alignment with strategy (vertically) and across teams, functions and lines of business (horizontally).
4. Culture Builder
Creating a culture that delivers on business strategy is the differentiator for successful organizations. On everyone’s mind now, of course, is the question, “If everyone works from home, how do we maintain a culture that enables success?”
But “hard” does not mean impossible. Building culture requires intentionality and discipline — intentionality in which behaviors leaders reward or punish and discipline in doing so consistently. Making culture building part of every leader’s job also requires the courage to hold those leaders accountable.
5. Interpersonal Sensor
Empathy has never been more in demand in the workplace than it is right now. For many people, dealing with the personal and emotional fallout of COVID-19 has became priority No. 1, and running the day-to-day business has, out of necessity, been relegated to a close second.
But, did you know that being ignored by a leader causes more damage than being treated poorly? Employees turn to their leaders not only for guidance on work priorities and feedback but also for emotional support, especially in tough times. Being attentive to the needs of others leads to trust: a rare commodity these days but a prerequisite for followership.
Of course, it’s important to celebrate wins, even little wins, along the way. Whether it’s a kind word of appreciation, a virtual high-five, or a shout-out for creative solutions and exemplary behavior, enthusiasm can be contagious, too.
6. Community Manager
Groups are resilient. There is safety in numbers. As a result, fostering networks and intentionally connecting others is a critical leadership competency.
Our work is increasingly interdependent and our lives increasingly intertwined. The best leaders are inclusive. They draw people in. They are 360-degree influencers: Their leadership flows in all directions and across boundaries. They build bridges both inside their organization and with external constituents. Their discourse unites and appeals to shared values. They celebrate diversity and hold everyone accountable for valuing each other’s uniqueness.
Your No-regrets Investments
Finally, here are three capabilities that require consistent investment, regardless of the circumstances:
7. Paradoxical Thinker
The world is not binary. Paradox is everywhere. It is the persistent tension between two contradictions, both of which are true.
Here’s the most recent example: During the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders who realized that it is possible to be more united while being physically distant have been the most effective. Leadership flexibility and fostering a paradox mindset are key to managing paradoxes well. Setting pace while supporting execution, articulating the agenda while listening for input from others, celebrating diversity to achieve unity, painting a long-term vision while delivering quarterly results and gracefully shifting from leader to manager — these are just a few examples of everyday tensions. The best leaders embrace paradoxes without trying to “solve” them.
8. Nimble decision-maker
Good decisions are good business, crisis or no crisis. However, turbulence and ambiguity call for swifter and sharper decisions — decisions that require courage, a higher tolerance for risk, and the humility to admit a mistake and change the course on a dime. Decision-making is a fundamental leadership skill and a no-regrets investment. Where leaders need to adjust now is to contextualize it to account for predictable unpredictability.
9. People Developer
In the knowledge economy, leaders raise performance on their teams by developing others. Add a crisis or two to the mix, and the importance of growing team members through assignments, coaching and feedback rises exponentially.
While a crisis narrows thinking and keeps us focused on the negatives, development provides us with the skills to deliver results, despite the environment. Plus, leaders with the reputation of being a talent developer are the ones everyone wants to work for. They will attract the talent needed for an uncertain future.
Your Next Steps
How do these shifts affect your business? Which of the related capabilities are most critical for you to acquire or build?
Take these and similar questions to your senior leadership team, and facilitate a discussion that can result in clear guidance and commitment. Once you have that commitment, craft strategies for acquiring or building the required skills. Then, execute. Flawless execution in turbulent times also brings a premium.