The future of work: 7 keys to unlocking your leadership potential

With its seismic disruptions to business activities, workplace organization and team management methods, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced a rethinking of the already unpredictable future of work. Although the end of the health crisis may be in sight, make no mistake: the new skills it has forced business leaders to learn and implement at warp speed will be permanent.

How can companies and managers better prepare themselves to cope with the challenges the post-pandemic world will pose? And which leadership competencies are needed to thrive in the coming era?

The future of work will demand a complex blending of old and new leadership competencies, enacted with a sense of dynamic balancing. Here are a few keys to unlocking your potential as a business leader of the future:

Practice rational empathy

While the end of the pandemic will be a source of relief, businesses will still have to adapt to the changes the crisis either ushered in or accelerated. Like any major transition period, this will cause worry, stress and no shortage of confusion.

How can managers take care of people, including their understandably volatile emotions, while keeping the big picture in mind and being ready for tough decisions such as when layoffs are necessary? To cope with all of this, leaders must practice empathy to understand people’s needs and couple it with rational leadership responses to business challenges during a time of change.

Provide vision, yet remain humble

In difficult times, people look to leaders for guidance and direction. People also seek meaning and purpose from leaders when confronting intense and prolonged periods of uncertainty.

Yes, business leaders shoulder the heavy task of providing and refining their organization’s vision and purpose. However, this should be carried out with humility, prudence and grace, particularly in moments of fear and uncertainty.

Act as a social bridge

The sudden widespread adoption of remote working will continue to demand agile management. While technology has improved the ability of people to work together across distances and borders, the challenge is making that basic connection meaningful.

Social bridging involves an intentional set of actions that leaders follow to create cognitive, emotional, and behavioral connection between people in increasingly flexible workplaces. A mastery of tools and social dynamics that allows collaboration at a distance must include a respect for individuality and each team member’s unique life circumstances.

Redesign work with a scientific mindset

Success in the future of work, including determining the right configuration of flexible work, requires different design and structuring. Future leaders will need to take on the role of organizational architects, who intentionally and strategically design or redesign how people work. This includes taking a hands-on approach to imagining company structure, processes, culture, and the human-technology interface.

To do this successfully, it is crucial to attack the process through rigorous experiments and data.

Enable transformation, but don’t toss the old playbook

Embracing the future of work implies change and adapting new business processes. To avoid leaning on past expertise, leaders need to “unlearn” certain habits to unlock transformation.

But in the necessary rush to meet the new, managers shouldn’t forget all that came before. Instead, they should enable learning, innovation and transformation by letting in new possibilities and routines while maintaining a sense of continuity. When possible, develop new capacities among current employees instead of replacing them.

Look inside

The pandemic has reminded us all of the importance of introspection to grappling with the crisis and bettering ourselves. Particularly, the quality of leadership decisions often depends on the clarity of mind and the personal resilience one can draw from within.

For business leaders, developing deeper self-knowledge and learning how to manage their own emotions and impulses will make them better managers of others. Most importantly, it will help deepen their commitment to serve others in their leadership role.

Balance dynamically and with purpose

The future brings both challenges and opportunities, encompassing multiple needs that need to be balanced against each other such as short-term vs. long-term goals, adaptability vs. continuity, and the integration of the human with the technological.

Having a clear sense of purpose will help managers dynamically balance these competing needs and juggle their many shifting responsibilities.

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