The complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic shine a light on theÂ benefits of a more engaging leadership approach.
By Buck Rogers
In the future, when reflecting on this moment in history,Â the strong leaders of today will be distinguished fromÂ those who preceded them by embodying one commonÂ quality: leading from within. Today more than ever, theÂ leaders who are making a positive impact are activelyÂ engaging in new ways to receive employee input soÂ they can best use the knowledge, talent, and experienceÂ within their teams. These leaders are dynamically learningÂ and immediately adapting to meet the challenges theyÂ face. In contrast to leading from above, they are leadingÂ from within. This is a unique leadership quality that willÂ become increasingly important and play a bigger role asÂ businesses continue to move forward in the turbulentÂ and dynamically changing environment caused by theÂ COVID-19 pandemic.
The Shifting Work Paradigm
Think of all the changes the business world hasÂ experienced in the last nine months. The current worldÂ of work is a new ecosystem where employer andÂ employee alike face actively changing variables in theirÂ professional and personal lives that require in-the-momentÂ consideration and adjustments. OrganizationsÂ have had to transition overnight from their corporateÂ workplaces to work-from-home settings. They have hadÂ to adjust communication and leadership styles, methods,Â and systems, and theyâve witnessed a technologicalÂ transformation historically unparalleled in its scopeÂ and timeframe. These are just the headlines of changeÂ within this new ecosystemâheadlines that donât includeÂ the adjustments in standards, policies, processes, andÂ sometimes even perspectives that teams and teammatesÂ have had to navigate.
While organizations have been effective at capturing theÂ headlines of change in their own operations and as anÂ overall business community, they must now look underÂ those headlines to truly learn about the transformation inÂ leadership today. As they peel back the complex layers ofÂ action and logic, they can observe the emergent qualitiesÂ that differentiate the leaders who are making an impact.Â Underneath âthe why,â they can observe âthe how.â
This is a difficult place for leaders to get to while theyâreÂ living through changing times and managing difficultÂ situations. It can be tempting to focus on âthe whyâ whenÂ making business decisions: Why does the team needÂ more flexibility in their work hours? Why should companyÂ meetings be shifted from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.?
Understanding âthe whyâ is not a bad thingââthe whyâÂ is important. It helps employees rally around their leaderÂ and their team and clears up any questions that canÂ cause distractions. But when leaders get a chance to peelÂ back the layers and observe âthe how,â they can see theÂ common characteristic separating strong leaders from theÂ others.
Leading from Within
Effective leaders today are engaging and interactingÂ more genuinely to seek input, ideas, and even leadershipÂ from their teams. While a small percentage of strong andÂ competent leaders operated like this before, the currentÂ ecosystem of change is demanding this style of leadership.Â Simultaneously executing multiple significant andÂ complex organizational changes with short planning andÂ preparation cycles followed by immediate implementationÂ puts leaders in a precarious situation in which they donâtÂ have all the answers. The result is that strong leaders whoÂ can effectively engage their teams to assess, address, andÂ work together to develop the path forward are the onesÂ who will be most effective.
Putting Others Before Self
Whatâs different in these leaders is their attitudeÂ and perspective towards their role as leaders. Itâs thisÂ perspective that is fundamental to servant leadership.Â Effective leaders interact in a way that puts the needsÂ of their teams and teammates before their own desires.Â They realize that the people within their organizations areÂ the lifeblood of success and that each employee bringsÂ different skills and experiences to the table. Having thisÂ leadership quality holds transformational value; TheseÂ leaders better understand and apply empathy, listenÂ more effectively and actively, and seek and facilitateÂ communication that keeps the conversation flowing at allÂ levels.
Develop Leaders for Today and Tomorrow
Over time, the demand for this style of leadership willÂ increase both broader and deeper into the organization.Â By facing todayâs challenges, leaders will learn how toÂ operate during a pandemic, diffuse and lead throughÂ political polarization, and identify fresh and effectiveÂ ways to make an impact toward better diversity, equity,Â and inclusion throughout their organizations. These areÂ historical challenges, both in uniqueness and scope. ToÂ best face the future, organizations must develop leadersÂ who have the ability to more actively engage and use theÂ strengths and experiences of their teams throughout theirÂ decision cycles. Leaders that can do this will benefit fromÂ the wealth of knowledge of their teammates, will earnÂ the respect of their teams, and will produce greater andÂ longer lasting results.
Buck Rogers is the vice president at Keystone Partners.