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Leadership in this new world

By October 3, 2023No Comments

Neil O’Brien shares his thoughts below on leadership, management, hybrid-working, and what is missing…

who is following whom?
This thought struck me the other day as I was thinking further on the topic that won’t go away – hybrid-working arrangements. It seems to me that the followers have overtaken the leaders as they re-design their work around their lifestyle and values. Let’s move the discussion on from hybrid issues and deal with the real issue of how to lead in this new world. Firstly, there are some factors to be considered.

generation gaps
When I joined the workforce there were only two generations – the old and the young, and there was one gap known as, yes, you’ve guessed it: The Generation Gap. Now there are more generations in the workforce, which means that there are also more gaps; more ways for misunderstanding to take place. Add to this the preference for older managers to want to know where everyone is, what are they doing and if they are being productive, while the younger employees don’t care where or how the work gets done but care passionately about how is the work going to fit around them and their lifestyle.

which way are we playing?
Secondly, managers used to live in a world dominated by football teams, that is, people in the same place, playing the same game against the same opposition at the same time. Now, as a result of working from home and hybrid arrangements, work is more like an athletics team made up of individuals each doing their own thing in isolation. However, if each individual has a good day, then they contribute to the overall pot of results. Of course, an athletics team requires a different leadership approach than a football team.

get stuff done
Thirdly, as I work with organisations, I am seeing a high level of frustration among leaders because they are being dragged much more into the weeds of detail by hybrid and remote leaving them less time to lead the business.

Management is a technique. Leadership is more about presence, attitude, and stability. It’s not easy to demonstrate these qualities in a digital environment.
Where you might be able to do the leadership piece is when everyone is together for designated office days. However, what’s happening in reality is that these office days have become very task orientated: people are taking the opportunity of face-to-face interactions to get stuff done and keep projects moving.

What we’ve got as a result is a heavy emphasis on remote video interactions on one side and task focus on the other. What are missing are the other elements of working life such as, maintaining relationships, sharing energy, and developing a genuine interest in the people we work with.

where to from here?
Firstly, I guess we must fight to put time aside for simple, natural human interactions within a task driven culture. This time can then be invested in leading an athletics team. There are many things that are taken for granted in a football team environment that all require more time and effort in an athletics team. A football team enjoys a collective sharing of good days, good results, easy spontaneous communication, water breaks together. Even the bad days don’t seem so bad, and you at least have the commute home to detach from the day’s work. My clients report that a bad day working from home is much worse than a bad day inthe office.

maybe it’s not leadership that’s missing
People now need much more communication than leaders have time for to help foster a feeling of belonging to something bigger than themselves. People now need more encouragement and support to help with the tough bad days. An organization now must create a culture that feels more like a supportive community than a corporate entity. So, I don’t think ‘leadership’ is the issue, I think it’s something else – something more basic but done brilliantly and consistently.


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