How Leadership Will Evolve in 2022
One thing all great leaders have in common is that they are constantly learning to adapt to change. And with continuing uncertainty in the workplace brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, today’s business leaders must be available, empathetic, and committed to offering their employees a chance to reflect on their sense of purpose and sense of inclusion at work.
While no one can predict the future, the pandemic all but guarantees that 2022 will not be a year of “business as usual.” Automation, hybrid workplaces, remote work, and technology like artificial intelligence (AI), will impact workers, and leaders must prepare for new challenges as the year progresses.
Laura Morgan Roberts, professor of practice at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and an expert in human potential, diversity, and leadership development, notes that compassionate, responsive leadership is critical to every organization, whether in person or remotely. Successful companies will emphasize a culture that prizes inclusivity and diversity.
“In the past year,” she noted, “we’ve seen more of a push to hire minorities, and we understand the value that diverse identities bring to the quality of work that organizations engage in on a daily basis.” Even after a crisis, the ‘new normal’ will require leaders to take a hard look at old values and norms and contrast them with what the new future could entail.”
In an article in The HR Director on leadership in 2022, Lesley Cooper, management consultant and CEO of WorkingWell—Amazon’s health and wellness program for warehouse employees—said one of the most important things leaders can do in this uncertain climate is to create psychologically safe places at work “where openness and honesty is welcomed and seen as the foundation of trust and a mutually supportive culture for healthy performance in the year ahead.”
Moreover, she added: “Employees have shown how adaptable and elastic they can be in meeting the challenging demands of work and life; business leaders need to recognize that there is little ‘slack’ left in the system, and you cannot ‘trade’ on the goodwill of staff inevitably.”
And in the same article, Nicola Schutrups, managing director of The Mortgage Hut agrees, saying that leaders are well aware of the importance of innovation and maintaining a work/life balance while adding:
“Leaders should take away the lessons from COVID-19 that may or may not work for their businesses—for example, things like hybrid working or flexible working and all these different ways of doing things which have shifted a leader’s mindset about what the norm looks like. Business leaders should continue to explore this, being aware that it looks different in every industry and affects productivity—sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better.”
Nearly two-thirds of the U.S.-based employees responding to a McKinsey study said that the pandemic has caused them to reflect on their purpose in life. Close to half said that they are rethinking the kind of work that they do because of COVID-19. What does this mean for leaders? Employees who live their purpose at work are not only more productive, but they’re also healthier, more resilient, and more likely to stay at their organization.
Based on the results of the study, McKinsey posits that successful leaders can help employees feel more fulfilled at work by focusing on three things:
- Start with the organization’s purpose. Does your company make a meaningful contribution to society? Rather than simply talking about purpose (and not following through with action), try tracking leaders, employees, and other stakeholders to assess their commitment to the organization’s overall purpose, which will carry over to employees’ sense of purpose and belonging.
- Reflect and connect. When employees have a chance to reflect on their personal goals and how they connect to the company’s goals, the survey shows that they are three times more likely to feel their purpose is fulfilled at work.
- Help workers find more opportunities for purpose in their day-to-day work. When employees experience psychological safety, they are more comfortable asking for help, making informal suggestions, or challenging the status quo without fear of negative consequences.
McKinsey also found that four qualities can help leaders find a compassionate voice as they manage in a crisis and move their organization forward afterward. These characteristics are being aware of what’s going on around you, vulnerability, empathy, and compassion to make employees feel genuinely cared for. These qualities dovetail with what’s termed emotional intelligence, something that sets high performers ahead of peers with similar skills and knowledge. Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and include:
- Social awareness
- Relationship management
While there are born leaders, they are few and far between; however, the good news is that leadership can be taught, but it’s important to note that it’s a process, with active steps managers can take to cultivate required skills.
There is no one-size-fits-all style of leadership. But ultimately, the best leaders inspire their employees to do their best. Joy Maxwell, founder and CEO of Childcare University, told Forbes that those in the C-Suite need to be “a little bit more prepared for 2022,” given the fact that 2021 was “all about regrouping and putting the pieces back together” after everyone was knocked off-stride by the pandemic the year before.
And, she added: “2022 should be about preparation. Business leaders need to be in tune and intentional with their planning and habits. If you take care of your team, your team will ultimately take care of you. If you better prepare for everything that is coming by ensuring your team has what they need, you will be better off.”
Forewarned is forearmed, then. Leaders have learned their lessons by this point, or at least should have. Now it’s a matter of applying them.
Written by Joel Landau.
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