Office life has become almost unrecognisable. There has been a true re-shaping of the world of work, not only in the WFH and digitisation revolutions but in what great leadership now looks like. Where organisations have long spoken of the fundamental shift to emotional intelligence in leadership, we are only just beginning to see how the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have speeded up that change.
At Untapped.AI, we work with hypergrowth businesses. Because they are existing at such breakneck speed, it’s easy for their managers to overlook the deeper needs of their teams. Particularly their emotional needs. For people to thrive they should be listened to, encouraged to take ownership of their innovation and development, and motivated to build interrelations with other departments, while consistently feeling they are valued for their input.
The reality of our new working world means that mass return to the office or city centres hasn’t happened. And with so many people working from home, management skills have to be specially adapted. On our platform, we have experienced a 30% rise in leaders expressing concern about their connection to their wider team.
Supporting leaders through the crisis, what we’ve seen has been profound: after a period of rapid adjustment focused on practical and operational concerns, successful managers have had to settle into a pivot away from directing and control, and a deep dive into listening, nuance and emotional intelligence.
Good leadership during the pandemic has required managers to rethink their connections with others, and for many, we have been supporting this has been hugely challenging. Because listening well (often through a Zoom call) is hard, and managing others’ stresses when going through your own is, likewise, very difficult. Each of us has had unique personal situations to navigate during the pandemic, whether juggling complicated lives, moving around with flatmates also working from home, or spending many hours and days alone in an urban flat. Managers often tell us they have been pushed to totally adapt the familiar skills they have relied on for most of their careers… “The changes have been huge. I have looked at myself, my team and my approach in a completely new way. At times it has been incredibly tough but there have also been positives. I’ve come out the other side a better manager.”
Leaders who have previously functioned by control and micro-management have struggled with this new normal. While ‘dropping by’ someone’s desk enabled this style in the old days, Zoom and email check-ins put a natural barrier between the controller and their team. Moreover, controlling managers are typically less flexible and dynamic, appearing strong but lacking the resilience beneath the surface that will allow them to provide the support and containment their teams now demand. Trust is a huge factor. And no one can dispute the fact that the little things can go amiss when remote working is typical. It takes a highly emotionally intelligent leader to read the mood of the call, manage conflict as it happens, build strong bonds, inspire collaboration and model good behaviour to others.
Let’s break it down. At Untapped.AI, we believe these are the main qualities of a successful leader in these new times…?
Deep Listening In a high-paced hypergrowth setup, where feelings can get pushed aside, leaders who take the time to listen and reflect on each person in their team are more able to respond in nuanced and empathetic ways, taking into account each individual’s personality, strengths, goals and circumstances.
Strong Communication Leaders who can reflect and think about how best to reach different members of their teams have been able to build trust and cooperative relationships – despite the reliance on digital means.
Flexibility In times of crisis, resilient teams are backed by flexible managers who are able to think on their feet, trust their people to do the best they can and respond quickly. Rigid perfectionists can struggle more, letting their own insecurities shape their responses and what they ask of others.
Bravery We don’t often talk about bravery in the business context – or if we do, it is in the sales call or on the market floor. But good leaders have to be courageous. It takes courage to trust yourself, your team and your organisation through vast uncertainty, and to lead with honesty and openness. It is bravery which will allow managers to move out of controlling patterns and into more reflective ways of being. This tends to be the core trait that helps teams progress and excel.