August 11, 2022 – COVID has changed the workplace forever. While working remotely began as a virus-driven imperative, its success has made it an option in most corporate structures. The hybrid/remote model is here to stay, and new leadership skills are needed to succeed in this “work anywhere anytime” world, says a recent report from IMSA Search.
Today’s leaders face monumental challenges. Constantly shifting circumstances affect their organizations as well as their employees, according to the IMSA report. “Quick decision making requires preparation for a broad range of possibilities,” the study said. “Planning skills are extremely important. Scenario-based planning imagines and anticipates needs for multiple situations. Dynamic planning builds responsiveness into processes, providing opportunities to amend strategies and reallocate resources based on real-time events. Flexibility and adaptability are critical leadership skills.”
The IMSA Search report also noted that communications is also critical as a key element in employee engagement, satisfaction, and productivity. Today’s successful managers must possess behavioral, social, and emotional skills to build and maintain a positive workplace culture. According to LinkedIn’s 2021 survey of 120 in-demand skills across 100 U.S. metros, communications topped the list. Post-COVID, employees want explicit emotional support. “Successful leaders can create intentional communications platforms to ensure ongoing expressions of appreciation, inspiration, and empathy,” the IMSA report said.
Paradoxes of Leadership
In considering attributes for successful leadership, Blair Sheppard, PwC’s global leader for strategy and leadership, defines six paradoxes essential for today’s executives. Each paradox is defined by opposing elements, and leaders must have both to lead effectively:
The Globally Minded Localist must operate globally and locally at the same time, connecting locales across the globe for worldwide success.
The High Integrity Politician must maintain integrity and inspire trust, while negotiating competing interests and overcoming resistance to move forward.
The Humble Hero must take advice, admit mistakes, and appear human, while leading with confidence.
The Strategic Executor must be able to drive a strategy with future changes in mind, pivoting and amending as needed, and bringing their teams along with them.
The Tech Savvy Humanist must be able to deliver advances in technology while communicating a focus on people and the resulting benefits to their employees.
The Traditioned Innovator must be able to select what to preserve from the past and build upon it, while also championing innovation when necessary.
Relational vs. Transactional Connection and EQ
Employees are tired; they crave social and interpersonal connections with colleagues and managers. Per McKinsey.com the top three factors employees cite as reasons for quitting are: not feeling valued by company, not feeling valued by managers, and no sense of belonging. In employee-employer relationships, employees prioritize the relational, wanting to be valued for who they are, while employers prioritize the transactional, valuing workers for what they do. “To help bridge this gap, leaders can emphasize the relational by making time to connect, expressing personal vulnerability, and promoting self-care,” said the IMSA report said.
Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is an essential soft skill, according to Forbes.com. Beyond communication, it is the ability to respond with empathy in the moment, according to the needs of others, according to the IMSA Search report. “Leaders with high EQ are more self-aware, understanding how their actions affect those around them,” the report said. “They are able to address challenges and resolve conflict more efficiently and effectively than their less emotionally intelligent peers. Companies are prioritizing EQ as a key skill for maintaining a positive work environment.”
Rethinking Talent Assessment
The IMSA Search report explains that for executive search consultants, understanding client culture, work specifics, and corporate goals is fundamental to successful talent identification and placement. Defining which soft skills are required for a specific position and assessing for them is essential. “In a hybrid world, people work independently without much direct guidance,” said David Nirenberg, managing partner for IMSA Canada. “Someone who thrives best when surrounded by others may not be the best fit for a primarily remote position. Concurrently, someone who motivates others best in person may not be right as leader of a remote team. We need to be asking questions which reveal the ‘people’ and leadership characteristics which now post-covid are very different.”
The Skills That Help CEOs Make the Right Choices
For top leaders, making a wrong decision can be costly. These days, CEOS must tap into an ecosystem of information both internally and externally. Three capabilities that help the best of them find the right answers are: an openness to new ideas and solutions, acknowledging that they don’t have all the answers, and a knack for tuning into, and making use of, their emotions.
Which soft skills are most critical for leaders today and how do we assess for them? Mr. Nirenberg has a short list:
- Working independently – assess for social needs.
- Building and influencing in a remote network – assess for unique skills to motivate others, separate from those required for in-person.
- Gaining consensus remotely – assess for understanding without in-person cues and an ability to facilitate stimulating dialogue to draw out the best ideas.
- Achieving goals with remote teams – assess for understanding of the remote workplace and what is needed to drive engagement, alignment and work forward.
“We need to ask new questions around competencies that will drive success in 2022,” said Mr. Nirenberg. “These competencies are different and more dynamic, requiring new assessment approaches. Asking to give examples of past behavior won’t work. Approaches like using unique situational scenarios will reveal much more about how they think through problems and that’s where more focus is needed.”
Can Soft Skills Be Taught? Yes!
Stanford Business School thinks so. Its organizational behavior, “Interpersonal Dynamics” is taken by more than 90 percent of the student body. “Students learn how to have difficult conversations, such as how to accept and deliver honest feedback,” the IMSA Search report said. “These future business leaders understand the importance of learning soft communication skills, having made this course the school’s most popular elective for five decades. Companies are also developing their own programs to teach effective communications and prioritize soft skills. And plenty of courses exist online.”
In this fast paced, ever-changing environment, it may be hard to identify and assess for all of the skills needed in the future. However, as described in PwC’s ADAPT Framework, “One thing is clear, the need for a new form of leadership has never been more crucial.”
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media