Confidently moving into a new leadership norm

By Jill Hamlyn

There is no better time observe the quality of leaders than when a seismic challenge is rocking their world.

Since lockdown started in 2020, just about everyone in South Africa’s corporate world has had to adapt to a transformed environment. New rules, norms, challenges and situations and circumstances are all part of this change. For a variety of reasons, some people have flourished while others have battled. 

The ongoing Covid threat has separated teams from the physical and emotional security of a company office to remote connections where employees no longer work at home, but rather, live at work.

In this “new normal”, the leadership world is being drastically challenged. This has severely impacted the many people who willingly took on the responsibility of motivating, inspiring and driving others, while being abandoned by many organisations who provided no insight or support for the role. The “because I say so” mentality had already been losing its power but in a world where people are tucked up at home with little physical presence, this approach is not working.

The lack of appreciation and insight as to what it takes to be a real leader has always been worrisome but over the last year, the role of leaders has transformed, and the stresses of the position have become more pronounced.

Whatever the circumstances, coordinated productivity needs to continue, away from the previous face-to-face office environment into a far more remote, and sometimes faceless world of internet connectivity. 

This article cannot deal with all requirements of what it takes to be a good leader. What it can do is emphasise the leadership mindset that is required to thrive during change. Hopefully, future leaders who want to thrive in their role will continue to reach out to learn some of the many other skills that are needed as part of their trade.

The ‘new normal’

For generations, economic downturns and general business challenges have been a way of life but the ongoing threat of the Covid-19 pandemic has catapulted most corporate workers into a “new normal”.

Health, wealth and the blending of the home and work life have become key focuses for many. For the leaders and managers having to raise their game to meet these new challenges, the burden of responsibility and instilling confidence has become more pronounced but the attitude, skills, and tactics of being a great leader remain the same.

As we look more closely at the leadership mindset and raising our game, we examine four of the basic priorities aspiring leaders can focus on.

1. Self-appreciation and self-care

It may seem paradoxical, but the primary role of any great leader is to ensure that they operate at their own peak performance. The leadership mindset required in looking after oneself throughout the leadership journey is by asking questions such as:

  • Am I getting enough sleep?
  • Do I exercise regularly enough?
  • Do I pencil out blocks of time where I commit quality time to interacting with family and friends?
  • Am I allocating time and a quality of interaction to understand and take charge of my sphere of influence?

2. Appreciation of others

Most people are far more resilient, responsible, and cooperative than we give them credit for. A “new normal” leader knows that a positive and appreciative mindset is key to unlocking potential in others.

Good leadership happens “one conversation at a time”. Quality conversations underpin a leadership mindset that every person and opinion matters. Asking questions and then using the head, heart, ears, and senses to listen to new thoughts, insights and gain an appreciation of what other people can (or cannot) do is one of the simplest steps in excellent online communication.  

The opposite approach is one where the issuing of instructions, negative put-downs and general disrespect create hostile and often emotion-filled interactions where positive interpersonal relationship are non-existent and management threats lose their legitimacy in remote, impersonal environments.

3. Planning and preparation

Another leadership mindset underpinning this new context is an appreciation and clearly focused end goal that acts as a guiding rudder.

When faced with an array of complex tasks or projects, or mastering the art of skilled communication, strong and focused “new normal” leaders can navigate and overrule their own negative thoughts and emotions that pull them towards the minutiae of the situation, the job, the project, or the team, and instead focus on the inherent “why is this necessary” and “what is my main achievable goal?” Without these two goal posts at the end of the field, there is no specific direction in which to apply a seemingly winning formula.

4. Systems and management

Once you appreciate yourself and others, and have a compelling ideal in each interaction, the next issue is managing the process through to completion. The leadership mindset required in this role is one of organisation and control.

Creating effective systems and quality management processes necessitates breaking down complex outputs into clear, unambiguous tasks that can be successfully and accurately managed.

The “new normal” leader understands that effective time management is a key ingredient, especially in a remote world. Quality output, confidence and ownership are the outputs of an environment where psychological safety is a key value. When the basics are established monitoring progress, providing clear feedback whenever and wherever the opportunity arises become part of the system that pulls people together. 

There is nothing really new in the fundamentals of this canvas, but the rules have certainly changed as leadership can no longer rely on interpersonal engagement as the office presence is replaced by distanced people and distanced attitudes who are crying out for leadership excellence.

Leadership is not a title, nor a status symbol. Leading others is a privilege and doing this job well requires a mindset that understands that insight, training, and raising the level of thinking are important criteria to make a success of this position. Without these attributes, leading others is demanding and incredibly stressful, particularly when the team is not physically present.

Jill Hamlyn is a master executive business leadership and personal coach who partners with The Space Between Us.