In our series about leaders and the post-pandemic implications, Malcolm Follos writes about how leaders need to stay relevant.

The COVID19 crisis is teaching us a lot. The University of Life lessons are coming thick and fast and, as usual, the fees for each lesson are high and the consequential costs of not learning the lessons even higher!

Many facets of what we considered to be our normal life are being disrupted, re-imagined and re-invented. It is as if the theme for this semester is ‘Discover what is really important to you and your life’. The ‘University of Life’ is a global establishment that we are all having to attend, so pay attention this learning opportunity may not come again in your lifetime and failing to learn could literally cost you your life.

It is in this context that I have been exploring what is being talked about in relation to the role of the leaders and their teams both now and post COVID19 lock down. As usual there are plenty of ‘experts’ lending their views to the debate, all offering slightly different perspectives, all valuable to consider.

In summary what I have discovered so far is that Traditional Leadership Teams are no longer fit for purpose. The idea that leaders of functions can represent, protect and report only on their function is dead in the water. Functional leaders have to adopt agile working principles and become active members of ‘Real Teams’. Now and in future the Leadership call to action will be to:

  • Broaden their scope of concern and area of influence to encompass the whole organisation.
  • Expand their time horizons to think and talk about the future more than the past.
  • Be highly adaptive in the leadership style they deploy to better match the current situation and stress levels across all of their organisations.
  • Learn how to be high quality Mentors, Coaches and Decision makers.
  • Stop second guessing and double checking the insights provided by experienced junior leaders and managers, the value this adds is at best incremental, at worst value destroying.
  • At the same time, they must continue to oversee business units and functions and ensure that operations run reliably and efficiently.
  • They must handle corporate governance issues such as compliance and shareholder communications—not to mention the crises of the moment.

Succeeding with all of these responsibilities is a tall order! Far removed from both a traditional executive committee’s work and that of textbook senior leadership teams.

The post COVID19 leadership team will feel a very different place. It will be more fluid in its structure. Less experienced, rising stars who are better equipped mentally and technically to cope with fast moving, ever changing challenges should, and indeed must, be given more prominence. Their courage, often fuelled by a nothing to lose naïve challenger mind-set, is needed now more than ever.

The time spent in senior leadership team sessions on current Operational issues needs to diminish. Much more time, thought and preparation needs to be given to the Leadership and Strategic challenges your organisation faces. Failure to do this work well now means you may well be condemning your organisation to survive the current crisis only to emerge battered and bruised into a post COVID19 world in which you are no longer relevant. This would be tragic!

Senior executives of large companies know a lot. They brim with self-confidence. These are the characteristics that helped make them successful, but the same characteristics can, if they are not careful, turn them into liabilities.

Some executives believe they know more than they do and are well used to issuing orders without having all (or in some extreme cases any) of the facts. These are the leaders that will find the current reality the scariest of times.

People now are and in the future are far more likely to respond to orders with comments like these: “That might be the right answer, but we’d like to test it first.” Or “Our data shows that customers don’t value the feature you’re proposing.” Or “We tried that idea and rejected it. Here’s why.”

In short, this situation requires humility from leaders. I don’t mean a false humility, but rather the sort that accelerates learning and bolsters the confidence of every team member.

Humble leaders recognise the futility of predicting the unpredictable and instead build rapid feedback loops to ensure that initiatives stay on track. They understand that good ideas can come from anyone, not just from those with the highest status. They view their job as helping team members learn and take responsibility, rather than telling every team member what to do and how to do it.

Senior leadership teams have to adopt such attitudes or their pronouncements will ring hollow.

What is clear is that leaders need to accelerate their learning. The University of Life is doing its bit, the lessons could not be more stark or urgent. Leaders have to start to grapple with the difficult challenge of Imagineering what the future holds for themselves, their functions and their organisation as a whole.

This is the ‘Ask’. If you need some help understanding how to tackle this brutal reality then contact us we are here to help.

Contact Malcolm at [email protected]

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