I recently read an article in the Financial times about leadership. It gave an example of a CEO laying off 900 people at the same time during a video conference at the start of the pandemic. We have witnessed many other examples of companies following the same path and abruptly culling people on Zoom, or by email. Pandemic or not, it’s shocking! How can leaders lead in this way, even during turbulent times? How can they lack so much empathy (collectively), to not challenge themselves and perform in a more humane way?
The world is striving for different leadership, especially now. The old-fashioned leadership has no place in this “new normal”, or it will come at a great cost. Focusing solely on short-term results and financial gains, at any expense, is not an option anymore. Leaders of the past – who have thrived on stereotypical traits such as manipulation, ladder climbing, boys clubs, money, and power – will just put your organisation in serious trouble. And we are already witnessing the negative effects: mental health issues, mass resignations, fluctuation in profits, war on talent, difficulties with innovation. I think we underestimate the impact of bad leadership. The pandemic, with its unprecedented scale and under preparation, has certainly uncovered this latent issue.
“Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”
The changes facing us are huge. Firstly, from a technological point of view with the Web 3.0, NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens), and Cryptocurrencies to name a few. And from an environmental standpoint, climate change is now fully part of business considerations, and organisations must measure its impact. From a social perspective, human rights, diversity and inclusion, and the social movement will depend on where you operate (e.g. employee activism, Black Lives Matter, Me Too, the great resignation in the US). The world is becoming more and more interconnected, so everything can impact your business as usual, and you must constantly get ahead of the game to move through the uncertainty. We need leaders who are not afraid of change, and who can drive this change in organisations. Resistance will lead us nowhere…
New leaders must be willing to show vulnerability. We do not expect leaders to use power, manage by fear, working from scarcity, or leading for compliance and control. We need leaders ready to be vulnerable. Social work research professor and author, Brené Brown, gives a fantastic Ted Talk on this; it’s a great lesson in leadership! She defines being vulnerable in this way:
“Vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. But vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our most accurate measure of courage.”
During the pandemic, we have seen what she calls, armoured leadership: People hiding themselves behind a screen or HR directions, laying off people in the most inhumane way. These so-called leaders have been too afraid to be vulnerable, show emotions and compassion.
This leads me naturally to talk about leaders and their relationship with themselves. Do leaders do inner work? For instance, do they work with a coach? Are they ready to question themselves and dig deep to reflect on their behaviour? Simply put: Are they striving to constantly become a better version of themselves? This, of course, takes time and energy. But it is a must. Cultures rewarding exhaustion and attaching productivity to self-worth are not healthy and give leaders a good excuse to avoid the inner work. It’s just not sustainable. During the pandemic, long hours working from home, on any day and at any time, has demonstrated its limits and inefficiency. To care for others and the world, leaders need to take care of themselves first.
We are entering into a new era where vulnerability, empathy, purpose, collaboration, driving change, and self-awareness will be essential skills for your leaders. Those people are your hidden gems! You need them across your organisation, and not only at the C-Suite level. They will inspire your teams and drive your business to the next level. And please, never underestimate the negative impact of bad leadership within your organisation. The time for change is now.