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The tremors of the post pandemic Covid shakeup are still reverberating in the corporate corridors. The world shutdown for over a year.

The rust gathered on the machines in the factories/offices creating an acute supply chain crisis. The pandemic disrupted production fuelling spiraling inflation. The fast forward technological breakthroughs like AI (Artificial Intelligence) are turning the planning processes topsy-turvy.

As if this was not enough, there is a time bomb ticking race of getting more with less in organizations. Such a mix of change, pressure and pursuit of instant results is unprecedented. The impact of this high voltage spin in corporate cultures is converting talent into zombies that may then be taken over by androids.

With working from home the new normal, it is creating dents in the traditional leadership models of “visible in the mind, and out of sight out of mind”. Leaders are now battling with people who are there but not there and people who are not there but there. This has created a leadership dilemma as confusing as the previous sentence.

While all else may change certain principal fundamentals do not. Human beings are social beings. While social media may have engaged their minds for hours on end, they still need to see, touch and feel another human being. This is still the base over which any relationship is founded.

Without this base, leaders have and will, keep on becoming mere ceremonial figures. They maybe part of history and archives but not movers and shakers of the present slippery, intricate web of complex interactions.

The success of a relationship is highly related to the success of results. An engaged and well bonded team comprising ordinary individuals can achieve extraordinary results.

A disengaged and divided team comprising extraordinary individuals may not achieve ordinary results is a fact proven in several studies across multiple sectors. Some engagement rethinks are:

1- From terms of engagement to terms of relationship— There is so much emphasis on TOEs (Terms of Engagement) when hiring. Rightly so. It describes the project/JD, mission, structure, deliverables etc.

But is that really enough for “engaging” somebody? It of course clarifies roles and responsibilities and the functions to be performed. Rarely does it go beyond that. Leaders feel frustrated at the lack of commitment of their team. They talk about how disloyal today’s generation is.

They blame their Gen Zeeness, lack of work ethics and incompetence. However, have they ever bothered to go beyond the terms of engagement and looked at whether they are just “helping hands” or “beating hearts”? According to a Gallup international study, engaged employees are 3 times more likely to stay at their jobs than disengaged employees. Just think about his world “Engagement”.

It is when two hearts meet with intent of formalizing its intent to marry and stay with each other till death does them apart. This word is all about the heart, the attachment, the commitment. Leaders who succeed in today’s world are people who look at people as people and not “resources”. Leaders who succeed are those who are able to work at making others feel good, worthy and trusted.

2- From social networking to human networking: Covid expedited the reality of remote working. Work from home and flexi hours, once looked upon with great suspicion, has now become a growing work pattern. Global firms are increasingly letting their employees choose their international location.

Leaders who were obsessed with being surrounded by their teams are now letting go. Social media has become a great place to have conferences and chats. However, leaders are also in danger of the over use of this “virtual space”.

The fact that the biggest business leader Elon Musk has acquired Twitter is a testament to this reality that this medium is attracting big names in the world. The use of video messaging by leaders to teams and stakeholders is a great connection medium.

But reliance on videos or online talks to bridge human interaction is never going to work. Leadership is as much a matter of aura as it is of the spoken word. The aura speaks a language that is more powerful than a well-crafted speech being read out from an invisible teleprompter.

The warmth of a shake hand is perhaps more unforgettable than the lovely background surrounding the video depict. Managing remote teams is a new skill for leaders and managers but many leaders are remote even when they are at handshaking distances. That is the balance the leaders need to learn, exhibit and maintain.

3- From spotlight to zoom-ins: The Public Relations (PR) maestros of yesterday would tell leaders you have to be in the news. ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) leaders are compulsive attention guzzlers. This mantra was strengthened by leaders like Richard Branson heading the Virgin group. Every move he made was a story.

His words, his dress, his adventures, his holidays, his antics; all hogged media limelight. Dazzling as it is, it may not endure in this penetrative and abrasive world of social media. With a free microphone, anybody and everybody now slice these videos to cut, criticize and scandalize each move.

This micro scrutiny in slow motion, with selective non contextual cutting, puts the person under a risky exposé that is larger than life. Leadership in today’s world is not about mesmerizing speeches that are going to be magnified by IT tool kits but about magnifying feedback of the audience. Audience, who if not heard, are going to make themselves audible via other platforms.

The ex-Uber head Travis Kalanick’s phenomenal rise as an unconventional disruption leader, is a case in point. Uber became a case study of the blue ocean innovation.

He became the talk of the world. While he was intoxicated by this attention overdose, the employees and their issues were given scant attention. Then the employees decided to get attention. Susan Fowler from Uber IT department posted a blog that revealed the abrasive/insensitive culture.

Confronting sexual harassment by her boss, her complaints were dismissed by the HR department. When she approached the senior management, they turned around and said “Well he is a high performer”. This led to a series of shocking social media revelations. Finally, Travis Kalanick resigned admitting he needed to learn more about leadership.

4- From telling to asking: The mindset of speaking, instructing, explaining, advising is so set that rarely do you see leaders who are not throwing pearls of wisdom around. Engagement means a heart-to-heart connection. Engagement means a deep interest in the other person. A monologue or an instructing session is only going to convey the message of a deep interest in self.

Best of relationships are broken by this common complaint “She never understood what I wanted’’ or “There was an inherent misunderstanding”, or “It was all about her and never about me”. Translated into professional relationships it is about an overbearing boss/colleague, etc. The most common complaint is that “he never listened”.

The fact that in almost all studies “recognition” is the top most motivator for employees tells us that those leaders who engage, empower and appreciate employees are the real leaders. To engage the leader has to first of all disconnect with his self-glorification and wisdom and be curious about the potential and wisdom of the employee.

5- Exclusive versus inclusive: Leadership is synonymous with C-Suite exclusivity; leaders are the high pedestal beings that bless the lower ranks with their presence on Annual dinners. This exclusivity is now a liability. More and more organizations are embracing DIE (diversity, inclusivity, equity) values to hire, and develop healthy cultures.

This requires a major rethink, redesign and retrain effort. Many top training companies are now focusing on shifting mindsets from exclusivity to inclusivity. This means engaging with diverse talent, mindsets and levels. And it is not just a buzz word but also a productivity and profitability contributor.

Teams with inclusive leaders are 17 percent more likely to report they are high performing, 20 percent more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and 29 percent more likely to report they are behaving collaboratively. In short, inclusive teams produce better results.

Connect to the team to know their unique interests and skills. Create opportunities for them to exercise their talent and excel. Cultivate a culture by engaging them to define, own and practice values and behaviours that enable inclusion and engagement.

Organisations seeped in traditional high flying leadership will find dealing with the new global workforce more challenging. Work from home has made hiring global. People sit in their own countries or in any country of their choice and work from Zoom or Google teams. Leaders will have to learn to learn. Leaders will have to find ways of understanding and connecting beyond the virtual screens. Leaders will have to leave their own comfort zones and work on developing comfort zones for teams spread far and wide.

They will have to be respectfully curious about their teams. They will have to separate themselves from the typical slogans of “the company way” and try to empathize with the “team member way”.

The C-Suite has to be remodeled into an E-Suite (Engagement Suite) where people from all cadres and backgrounds are energized to contribute their best.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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Hujjathullah M.H.Babu Sahib Dec 04, 2023 01:42pm
DIE isn't enough ; a DIED (diversified, inclusive, equitized and a delivering) leadership is better !
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