A refresh on leadership skills

August 25, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has put most firm leaders to the test. The need for skills that were prized in the past won’t evaporate, but the need for an added set of leadership competencies is now apparent to most.

Traditionally, core leadership skills that needed to be in place if an associate was to be considered for promotion broadly revolved around technical knowledge and then some focus on achieving financial targets, plus some operations management, accounting, knowledge management and marketing principles. Less emphasis was given to team and people issues, and how to drive behavioural change.

If the pandemic has taught leaders anything, it is that they must continuously adapt to change and upskill their firm – and themselves – if they are to ensure longer term success. 

The pandemic offers the opportunity to hit pause and reflect on the skills that leaders of the future will need to be equipped with. The competencies needed to lead are altering rapidly and the need to re-set has been accelerated; consider the following:

  • You cannot know everything – the concept of the always out-front, all-being, all-seeing leader now seems outdated. It is not possible for one person to have all the answers, so a demonstrable willingness to be humble, to listen, especially to the voices of dissent, will be more important than ever. 
  • The ability to be empathic will take on a new importance. Leaders will need to demonstrate improved social and interpersonal skills – the art of EQ (emotional intelligence). Working mostly from home, maybe for the longer-term for many, now means leaders must adapt and learn how to manage their remote teams effectively. It is not easy to build team spirit and camaraderie, be warm, welcoming and encouraging, and collectively work towards achieving shared goals and objectives over the various online meeting technologies now available – all without inducing online meeting fatigue. 

Strong EQ skills will be required to really tune in to each team member’s issues and understand how they are dealing with, what is for most, dramatically changed circumstances. Greater awareness around how team members are juggling the often-blurred lines between family and professional life will be needed. Knowledge around how to keep a close watch on team members who may be feeling insecure or suffering from stress, anxiety or depression will be critical. Without a rapid EQ upskilling, some leaders may struggle to see the signs of stress, thus increasing risk for the firm. 

  • Increased self-awareness – following close on the heels of empathy is the ability to be self-aware. Leaders who are able to show resilience, compassion and the ability to manage themselves well when under pressure – because they are acutely aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and they have strategies in place to manage their own levels of stress – will be sought after and these qualities will form part of the new leadership competency model.
  • Able to thrive in what is now a truly VUCA world – Volatility. Uncertainty. Complexity. Ambiguity. Covid-19 exemplifies the VUCA world so leaders must now become adept at coping – better yet, thriving – on change and unpredictability. Strategic thinking and planning skills will take on a new importance as leaders must now navigate through very uncertain territory. The ability to look for ways to integrate and align systems and processes with a view to creating greater value will be highly prized.
  • Effective collaboration means being able to interact successfully with many different people who may come from a diverse range of backgrounds, disciplines and perspectives. This can be a big ask for professional service leaders as individuality has been prized in the past and for some firms, compensation systems reward individual achievement. Incentives count and without alignment of these systems, it can be very difficult for firm leaders to drive the right behaviours.
  • Re-visioning – for those leaders who are re-imagining the future of their firms, setting a new vision is only the first step. Inspiring others to follow, and then deliver results, all while using online meeting technology, will be a significant challenge. Many leaders will require additional support on ways to still achieve optimal outcomes, despite having to use a different set of communication tools and techniques.

New-look leaders will need to reconsider every aspect of the way they and their teams work, identify the skills they will value in the future, and put in place strategies to upskill and embed leadership competencies that will be needed to thrive in the post-pandemic world.

We would be delighted to hear your thoughts and continue the dialogue with you. We hope you’ve found this Insight to be constructive and thought-provoking. We share comments and ideas of a general nature, with the aim of helping firms contend with current challenges. As such, the content above is unlikely to be complete and comprehensive enough for a firm to re-imagine the future. Rather, it may be a beginning or a conversation starter, as each firm is different and the challenges each face are unique. If you would like to continue the conversation, then please connect with us for a confidential conversation at click here.

Post Author

Jennifer Milford