A Changing Of The Leadership Guard
An article last week from Entrepreneur titled “Why ‘Messy’ Leaders Are The Future” outlines why traditional – and outmoded – leadership styles failed in 2020 and will not be effective going forward.
While the title is slightly out of context with the article content, they both convey a tectonic shift in leadership behaviors that will matter the most, and be most embraced, going forward. The change from traditional, uber-professional archetypes to a more adaptable, compassionate and non-conventional approach and persona has taken place.
The ability to direct an organization in any capacity or role used to be predicated on a leader’s drive, ability to mobilize a workforce, and obtain results. And if employees were along for the ride, so much the better. However, employees are having more of a voice in how their leadership needs to act and behave, and are avoiding those leaders who won’t change to their requests.
To elaborate on the article, let’s breakdown some conventional leadership norms that are being jettisoned for better leadership mindsets.
Managing Stress. Older leadership styles generally required employees to just get the job done at all costs. And those “all costs” meant “at no extra cost” by leaders who withheld pay, more staff, and needed resources to get the job done properly. And that is just the tip of the iceberg of outmoded “tough” leadership styles that created more stress, according to Dr. Geri Puleo. Great leaders in the last year knew that there was less resources anyway due to the pandemic, and worked to alleviate stress in spite of the involuntary limits of those resources.
Empathy. A global pandemic, social unrest and economic loss created an enormity of instability last year to which the recovery has just barely begun. Leaders who weren’t empathetic in the past, were defined more properly as unresponsive, in a classification done by Leadership Management Australia. More than ever before leaders are asked to truly listen to their employees, and not pay lip service. Acting by being emphatic is more than just listening with a bias. It means having a genuine concern for the well being of your people without prejudice or favoritism – or performance.
Mental Health. While the category of employee mental health is losing its stigma, meaning that it’s about mental well being, many old school leaders believe employees have to have a tough mindset always. Those that don’t portray that get managed out. The fact that leadership approaches to mental health are rising to the forefront is because they were never properly addressed in the past en masse. New leaders, and those willing to change their mindsets, are looking to be more attuned to how to foster a mentally healthy employee and culture; it’s currently the reason Chief Leaning Officer and a myriad of other leadership sources have prioritized this dilemma, as mental health concerns have doubled in the last year alone and continued to rise. Thankfully emerging leaders are making this a priority as well as noted mental health groups such as NAMI creating resources for leaders to be able to meet their people’s needs.
Compassion Over Properness. “We don’t talk about that here,” alluded to in the Entrepreneur article, simply means employees must conform to a business-only behavior modality. And most often, these leaders and out-of-touch cultures have stodgy dress codes, restrictions on personal time and work-life balance, and a code of conduct left over from a generation that may not have been inclusive. The older “one size fits all” style of employee compliance and leadership that managed that is not just outmoded, it’s just plain bad leadership, according to leadership expert Mike Myatt. Being a flexible leader means holding on to what really matters – people engagement and talent development – on not to the traditions that will always change every few years.
Processes More Than Results. The base article for this post talked about a hospital in Cincinnati that was able to pivot quickly during the pandemic and develop a new system, rather than the projected years initially pre-covid. This was due to concrete mindsets that wouldn’t allow flexibility -“that’s the way we’ve always done it”. While speed may have mattered in the past, agile matters most going forward. Even more important, as Tracy Brower states in her article, is being flexible in an agile organization. Success means more than just a results-based outcome – it’s the ever fluid ability to change and roll with the tides of the market.
Being Human, Being Vulnerable. Many old-school leaders had to have all the answers. Their pride would never allow themselves to admit not knowing the answers. And many times, they manipulated their way to be knowledge gatekeepers of the organization. But the best of leaders that emerged and positioned themselves last year for future success allowed their pride to be set aside, and be vulnerable to their staff. This bridging of relatability allowed their people to rally around them, and not merely march forward blindly in uncertain terrain just to make the numbers work. They admitted the crises of last year had an effect on them as well, but were willing to work together to come up with solutions rather than to tell their people how to manage the shifts.
The change is here. The old guard will not get it done anymore. Great leaders will be willing to pivot, and internally (not externally) adopt these changes as their own and necessary. And even the most recognized experts are teaching others the new leadership change. It’s why Boston Consulting Group closed their article at the onset of the pandemic with the imperative to all leaders to have “Leadership with Head, Heart and Hands”. A premise they continue to promote currently in change management because a new era of leadership is being called forth.