It’s strange to think that just a couple of years ago working from home was an anomaly with many employees seeing it as a treat if they were allowed to do it occasionally. Then COVID came along and changed all of that. Now, despite some companies insisting employees come back into the office, research suggests remote working is here to stay and that hybrid working will continue to be a priority for workers.
But this change in the business landscape doesn’t just impact on practical business issues such as whether companies will need to downsize office space or provide all their staff with the latest computers. It also impacts on how leaders behave.
Managing a disparate workforce, who are potentially all over the country (if not the world) is very different from running a physical office. Chairing monthly team meetings, conducting one-to-ones, resolving conflict, is very different when it’s done online rather than in person.
We’ve written previously about transformational leadership and while that is a step in the right direction, there are other skills and competencies a future leader needs to have if they are going to be effective, including the following.
1. Embrace Emotional Intelligence
Empathy, self-awareness, open-minded, willingness to listen.
Emotional Intelligence as a business construct isn’t a new thing. In fact, it first appeared in Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, and has helped many leaders, including Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
Emotional intelligence enables you to identify your emotions and recognise how they affect not only your behaviour and thoughts, but also the impact they have on others. It helps you see situations from another person’s perspective, which in turn enables you to manage that situation more effectively.
Leaders with emotional intelligence inspire confidence, communicate effectively, encourage collaboration and teamwork, and quickly resolve any conflict, ultimately leading to better business results and happier employees.
And with more people starting to work remotely this will become more important than ever. A survey found that nearly half of newly remote workers feel their ‘sense of belonging suffers at home’ and this is before factoring in their lack of engagement or low motivation levels. The reality is phone calls, emails, online meetings don’t make up for the physical contact that comes from being in an office and also makes it a lot harder to spot mental health issues.
Leaders of the future will need tap into their emotional intelligence to ensure all employees, no matter where they are located, feel valued and connected and free to raise their concerns and express their opinions without ridicule.
Concerningly, research suggests emotional intelligence is actually declining among college students which doesn’t bode well for our leaders of the future.
2. Be an adaptive thinker
Holding on to old assumptions about what is best for a business is the sure-fire road to failure. The business landscape is changing, and leaders of the future should be actively embracing this change. And they can do that by being an adaptive thinker.
Adaptive thinkers show humility, listen to different views and opinions and are willing to put aside their own goals and dreams for the greater good of the business. They are able to recognise the unexpected, quickly review possible responses and then decide on the best one. They are calm under pressure and able to think clearly and fast without being hijacked by unnecessary emotions, which incidentally is another aspect of emotional intelligence.
And this ability to easily adapt to changing work conditions, also helps with employee relationships. An adaptive thinker recognises everyone is different and that a flexible approach in thinking, behaviour and style is needed.
3. Be accessible
Most of us remember the days when the big boss would never be seen unless it was to announce an important bit of business news. And while that has changed over the last few years, we would argue future leaders should become even more accessible. Why? Because if more and more people are only coming into the office once or twice a week, a leader sat behind a permanently closed door isn’t going to foster positive employee relations or encourage teamwork.
An effective leader shouldn’t just be a figurehead. It should be someone who gets to know their employees, engages with the different areas of the business, listens to ideas and concerns and is on hand to deal with unexpected issues or answer questions.
This in turn will help employees feel more connected with the business and therefore more productive, and all from simply opening an office door.
4. Set clear boundaries
While understanding the feelings and perspectives of employees is essential, it does make it even more imperative that boundaries are maintained. Yes, an employee might be going through a hard time, and a good leader will take the time to listen, sympathise and, if it’s in their power to do so, even help, but that doesn’t stop them being the boss.
Setting boundaries isn’t just about ensuring things aren’t awkward if you’re ever in a disciplinary situation, it’s also about the ability to manage and motivate. Done right it will empower people to do the best they can.
Effective boundary setting is even more important for future leaders as the proliferation of social media allows relationships to develop differently and boundaries to become easily blurred. Getting it right from the outset will make things a lot easier in the long run.
5. Give employees a voice
While hybrid working or working from home can be great for the work-life balance, it can have a detrimental effect on a business’s culture.
After all, how do you get everyone in the company to be fully engaged and aligned with the company’s vision and goals if they are hardly ever in the office? Well, one of the ways is to give them a voice.
As we mentioned in our blog on transformational leadership if you enable the workforce to have a say in shaping the company’s future success, they are much more likely to be engaged and fulfilled. It not only shows you trust and value them, but enables them to feel more connected to the business, which as we’ve seen, is becoming more important than ever.