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New Era Leadership

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A colleague of mine recently sent me an article about leadership in the post-pandemic era. It's a great article, and I was straight away struck with two observations:

  • Younger minds are better equipped to take on change and innovation, so this could be an opportunity for them to make a difference.

  • Leaders need to reinvent how they work and enable followers through constant change. This can be done through various methods, but experiential learning may be the most effective way.

Being successful as a leader today requires being able to make decisions and act quickly in the face of rapidly changing and often ambiguous circumstances. Leaders must also be able to navigate the complexities associated with managing a diverse workforce and increasingly global business operations. To meet these challenges, leaders must develop a repertoire of skills and abilities that allow them to act decisively and efficiently in various situations. The following article will discuss the importance of these skills and abilities and provide examples of how they can be developed and used effectively.

Being proactive can be difficult in a remote work environment, and leaders who can effectively navigate these challenges are in high demand. It was much easier pre-Covid as you were in the office or on the client site. We should use this as an opportunity to create a model where people can be enabled to be more proactive in a hybrid world.

I was thinking about the UK and how much it has changed in the last ten years. I came back here to find a job I love that is purposeful, fairly paid and to work with people that appreciate what I do. And that was the case till a few Black Swan Events happened. First, we had Brexit, where two things happened:

  • People started to be a little bit more anxious about their jobs and positions, so they started to add more responsibilities to their workload

  • Quite a few people decided to leave the UK and go back home, meaning others had to take on the extra work

Then we had a global pandemic, during which, if we weren't discussing the possibility of being furloughed, we were talking about the horrendous number of hours we were working. Now we're left with these never-ceasing conversations about workload, the blurring of work and personal life, company budgets, utilisation… all adding to the already existing fear of losing your job. People are in this perpetual and relentless whirlwind of doing work to be busy... because they're scared.

That's why we need to change the messaging. Stop talking about money and start talking about opportunities. We've all worked harder than ever to keep up, and it's starting to show. Productivity is slipping, and people are getting frustrated.

Burnout isn't just a case of working too hard or too much. It's the result of a complex set of conditions in the workplace that leave us feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and unable to meet constant demands. It's a state of chronic stress that leads to physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion.

We need to 'Kill our Darlings' and focus on the stuff that matters. And if someone has a day when they're not doing anything - celebrate that. Stop making people go out and find things to do. Because then they get back into the whirlwind. Sometimes it's good to have downtime, reset, and think - that's where innovation happens - it doesn't happen in the whirlwind.

Stop looking at the negatives of Hybrid Working.

Instead of looking at the negatives and going back to pre-Covid office design, we need to embrace the opportunities this new age offers us.

Being open to remote working offers the opportunity of having a more diverse workforce because now we can employ people from outside the country we operate in, and it also allows us to have a more extensive client base, as now many companies are working in a hybrid model.

Instead of asking ourselves how we get people back into the office, we should ask ourselves what we can do for our employers to make it easier for them. I was thinking recently about how people used to work with clients, and it usually meant going into a client's office shaking hands with a high-level client and having a real presence in the room.

But I don't think forcing clients to meet face-to-face is up to us. Increasingly we will have to work with this new hybrid model. Even recently, I had a scheduled workshop that was supposed to be in person. A week before the session, one person got Covid. Then we found out that there was a train strike. We moved the workshop to Miro and did a remote version.

Many Leaders say that their employees are tired of working from home and want to return to the office today. I recently stumbled on a post on LinkedIn where a recruiter wrote that they have been recruiting many people who want to leave their jobs because they don't like the new hybrid working policy and want to be back in the office. She put up a poll asking people to vote on one of three options:

  • fully remote

  • hybrid

  • entirely from the office

I clicked on the fully remote and was in the 47% that chose that option. 50% were happy with hybrid working, and only 3% would like to return to the office full-time.

There is a massive gap between people who want to return to the office and all the others, so I don't know why leaders assume that employees want to return full-time. Is it because they are the ones that are not tech-savvy and are struggling with this new hybrid model? Is it because they don't have a presence in the room and feel like talking through the screen is just not delivering as it used to? If that is the case, then they should be the ones that go through some sort of training and learn how to work virtually.

I think the other thing is the impact of the work that we're doing. People want to do meaningful work, which isn't done just to be busy. Many companies during Covid allowed their workers to do internal projects because they knew their workers needed to feel purposeful and needed something to do when client work was not there. But I think all companies need to refocus on their goals and teach their people what they should be doing and how to prioritise things that are important for the company. And stop doing "things" just for the sake of being busy. Let's embrace free time and allow ourselves to reset!

The focus must shift from what is happening to why it is happening.

The office will never be like it was before Covid. We now have an opportunity to step back and ask our people (the users) if and why they're struggling and how we can help. We can no longer rely on the past to guide us, so we need to take a step back and ask our employees what they want and how we can best serve them.

Leaders need to be comfortable with change, which can be learned. But there are a few things that can help make the transition smoother. First, leaders must be open to new ideas and perspectives and willing to experiment and take risks. Below are five things every Leader needs to embrace to future-proof their organisations:

  1. Growth mindset. By applying approaches like design thinking, you can future-proof your company and be more prepared for shifts in the market. Even if you and the team are busy, that doesn't mean you are more efficient and helping the company grow. To achieve growth, companies need to deliver on the outcomes, which means clients expect to gain benefits and do it better than the competition. This means companies - leaders and teams - must be prepared to respond to change based on learnings. Leaders who don't get this will eventually lead their companies to lose market share and/or be invited out. Remember, it's about the value you deliver, not how many things you make.

  2. Learn from younger employees.

  3. Have flexible leadership styles. Relearn what it means to be a leader and align your style to the situation. You may need to shift gears quickly, but with enough experience, it will become second nature.

  4. Develop your leaders. Give them the tools and knowledge they need to overcome barriers and lead in a hybrid world. Create a safe space for them to fail and learn without impacting their teams.

  5. Empathise. Understand your employees and why they are struggling. Look at the behaviours you are rewarding and focus on the ones that support growth.

Fostering an ecosystem wired for sustainable growth

So how do we create a workplace ready for change and a new hybrid model?

Leaders must become social architects and support the organisation's sustainable transformation by nurturing critical dimensions within the company's ecosystem. This will build a strong foundation for shifts and growth to continue at scale, meeting the demands of a newly shaped and ever-changing World of Work.

Design thinking is a popular methodology that places the human dimension at the forefront of change interventions. The reasoning behind this is that creating a thriving ecosystem is only possible when we acknowledge, embrace, and care for the layers of complexity that come into being as people work to bring the vision and mission of an organisation to life. Design thinking helps individuals and organisations to do just that - by providing a framework for understanding and addressing complex problems.

The social architect is a new type of leader that strives to change organisational culture and empower employees to create a more innovative and effective workplace. This unique leadership style focuses on unlocking the organisation's potential, fostering an ecosystem in which empowerment, growth and performance are intertwined with fit-for-purpose processes and systems through which people connect and collaborate toward creating more excellent shared value.

The new age Leader is thus someone who designs and builds the organisational structures and processes that enable an organisation to be more effective and innovative.

Organisations have always sought to navigate tumultuous times by building a blueprint for change, which is even more essential in the current VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, uncertain) world. When faced with uncertainty and change, organisations must build a model for themselves and stick to it to be successful. They must create a roadmap for themselves and map out how they will get from Point A to Point B. Doing this will help them to anticipate potential roadblocks and make informed decisions.

We need to create agile cultures that move at pace, embracing the challenges ahead rather than resisting the new. To value divergent and convergent thinking as authentic means of collaboration, for opportunities to be translated into the needed change so that the company can reach higher states of performance and growth.

Today's business leaders operate in a fast-paced, ever-changing environment. They must be able to make decisions quickly, often in the face of complex and ambiguous circumstances. Leaders who can effectively navigate these challenges are in high demand. Often the decisions they make have a profound and long-term impact. Given the magnitude of our responsibility, we must be thoughtful and deliberate in how we approach decisions.

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