Looking at the
pandemic in a positive light. Interesting? Read on . . .
COVID-19 pandemic has caused huge grief to many around the world. But there is
a silver lining: the pandemic may be the best thing to have happened to
leadership in 200 years.
pandemic caused us to discover three things:
- People and firms can change far faster than anyone thought
- Leaders need to up
their game to manage remote and hybrid teams; and
- The days of command and control are finally coming to an
People and Firms can Change Far Faster than Anyone Thought
In the years BC (before COVID-19) we fooled ourselves
into thinking that we were living in revolutionary times, driven by the
Internet, technology, and globalisation. But those years now seem like a gentle
walk in the park compared to the lightning change that we saw during the
Two organisations that I work with showed just how fast
change can happen. Teach First is the UK’s largest graduate recruiter.
Recruiting and training teachers is a high contact business. When the pandemic
broke, Teach First managed to go remote overnight for all of its recruiting and
training. It has had a record year and it will now go into a hybrid model of
face-to-face and remote working.
People deals with the human tragedy of helping families when a family member
goes missing. It is highly sensitive work. To maintain quality and
confidentiality, it was vital to keep all the call operators together. Again,
overnight, they re-organised to deliver their service remotely and they will
also go back to a hybrid form of working after the pandemic.
Leaders and firms passed the first challenge of
responding to the crisis. The bigger challenge comes next. Will they now sink
back into their comfort zone believing that they have ‘done’ change for a few
years? If they do, they will find that comfort zones can quickly become
uncomfortable unless you keep changing. So the next challenge for all leaders
is to challenge their other assumptions about how to work, compete, and
organise. No one questioned the need to work in an office before: what other
assumptions can you productively challenge?
Need to Up Their Game to Manage Remote and Hybrid Teams
Managing a remote team is far harder than managing in
the office. That is excellent news for all leaders. It means that you have to
be far more purposeful and deliberate in your leadership practice. Some leaders
will rise to the challenge, others will not. This is your chance to shine.
in an office is relatively easy. It is easy to communicate; if there is a
misunderstanding, it is easy to spot and fix; you can see who is slacking and
who is striving; it is easy to give and ask for help. Leading remotely is
harder. The first person to work out how to
motivate by E-mail will make a fortune: it is a fortune which is unlikely to be made. Aside from motivation, communication,
work load management, goal setting, mentoring, problem solving, and team
building are all far harder remotely. For all of these reasons, the office is
not dead, but we will learn to use it less and to use it better.
Leadership in the office is fairly ad hoc. You can see
what is happening in real time and respond in real time. Leading remotely you
can not afford to be ad hoc: you have to be much more deliberate and purposeful
in all that you do. This raises the bar for leaders and managers. If you can
manage a remote team well, you will have acquired skills to help you manage an
office based team even better. Hybrid working is your chance to learn and step
Days of Command and Control are Finally Coming to an End
The pandemic has simply accelerated many trends which
were already there. Command and control was already wilting in the face of an
increasingly educated, professional, and independent workforce. Professionals
hate being micro-managed and they probably think that they can do your job
better than you can. And if they do not like the way
you manage, they can leave: most people do not leave their firm, they leave
freak bosses have found it is much harder to be a control freak when you cannot
see your team. You have to trust that your team is working and doing the right
thing while you are not watching them. You have to trust that they are not feeding the dog or practising the ukulele.
The need for trust in place of control is even more important given the
ambiguous nature of professional work. A report can be one page long or 100
pages long, but there will always be another fact to gather or another opinion to canvas. It is not like
producing widgets or making deliveries where an algorithm can monitor your
performance and compare it to others.
place of command and control, leaders are having to learn the arts of trust and
delegation, of persuasion and influence. These are higher order skills than
traditional command and control.
post COVID-19 world will sort the best leaders from the rest. The best leaders
will be the ones who:
and accelerate the pace of change;
more purposeful and deliberate in how they lead; and
from command and control to persuade, influence, delegate, and trust.
Modern management was forged in the Industrial
Revolution 200 years ago. The pandemic is finally forcing management to move
from 19th century principles to the 21st century.
Mr Jo Owen is the award-winning author of How to Lead, Global Teams and Resilience. He is the founder of eight NGOs, he started a bank and was a partner at Accenture. As a keynote virtual speaker he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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