As a leader, some skills are more essential than others. But which skills? Sam Palazzolo, our Principal Officer at The Javelin Institute and Ashley Allen Seeley, Ph.D. recently took a deep dive to exam essential skills for the post-pandemic leader, broken down across three areas: 1 – Soft skills; 2 – Technical skills; and 3 – Business knowledge… Enjoy!
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The Need for Leadership Essential Skills
The need for effective leadership in today’s post-pandemic business environment is critical. Leadership and the skills needed to be an effective leader have been highly researched and debated. There are thousands of books dedicated to the topic and each one has a slightly different view. So, what skills are essential for effective leaders and how have they changed over the last year and a half?
The most effective leaders employ a mix of leadership skills, technical skills, and business knowledge. The exact mix of these three skill sets is dependent on the leader’s role, level in the organization, and in some cases the industry in which they work. The combination of these skills has changed due to the pandemic and shifts in work-life. Today, leadership skills are even more vital and often set great leaders apart from their peers. The need for technical skills and business knowledge have remained steady and are also central pieces to the leadership puzzle.
Leadership skills, or soft skills, including interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence, are the foundation of effective leadership. There is consensus on the leadership skills needed to be an effective leader, including motivating self and others; critical thinking; problem solving; building relationships; managing change; leading ethically; delegating tasks effectively; strategic planning and execution; effective communication; championing diversity, equity, and inclusion; and leading remote and dispersed teams. Although all these skills are principle to leadership, the necessity of the last five has increased in the post-pandemic world.
Delegating tasks effectively
The recent pandemic, untraditional workplaces, and work from home scenarios drive a need to pivot and evolve traditional leadership skills. In this environment, delegation can no longer be done with clear oversight or random walk-ups to employees’ desks. Delegation in this environment rests on clear expectations, agreed upon accountability, and most importantly trust. The best leaders have high standards, set up systems that support employee success, and trust their team members will shine.
Strategic planning and execution
Nearly all leaders engage in some level of strategic planning, yet very few, if any, actualize all of those plans to execution. Some leaders fall short by not taking full advantage of strategic planning meetings, even though these meetings can provide opportunities for building partnerships, aligning priorities, employee engagement, and promoting tactical execution. More than ever, employees want to know where the organization is headed, what changes are coming, how they fit in, and how they can contribute.
A primary, but often vague leadership skill is communication. Most managers rarely communicate the details of specific projects to key business partners, and even fewer clearly share with their team members the reasons for actions or decisions. Unfortunately, even leaders who move projects forward and produce results don’t consistently communicate effectively, resulting in wasted time and energy for both employees and leaders. Communication should encompass strategic topics such as mission alignment, organizational goals, division changes, and future direction and vision, as well as tactical topics including expectations, process steps, and issue resolution agreements. Communication goes two ways; providing opportunities for employees to be heard and share their ideas throughout the organization delivers exponential returns in employee buy-in and commitment.
Championing diversity, equity, and inclusion
As the work landscape transforms, differences in employee work styles, contributions, and skill sets become more pronounced. This is an opportunity for leaders to adjust polices and work structures to allow every employee to bring their full self to work. Look for the value each unique employee contributes. How can you leverage strengths, revisit divergent ideas, or elevate overlooked voices? This is an opening to not only respect and include diverse perspectives, now leaders can uplift, value and strengthen employee diversity within their own teams.
Leading remote and dispersed teams
Leading remote and dispersed teams can create new challenges for leaders as they strive to build morale and create consensus and team cohesion. A key to leading in this environment is finding ways to stay connected to each individual and the team as a whole. Regular one-on-one and team meetings are essential and should be upheld as a priority. One-on-one meetings are occasions to check-in on projects and tasks, but more importantly, they should be used for employee development and engagement conversations. Team meetings can foster cross-collaboration and group problem solving; they also build a sense of community and alignment.
Alongside these increasingly important leadership skills are technical skills and business knowledge, which have not lessened in importance. Although technical skills differ by position and industry, they are often the baseline of an organization. As leaders move up in the organization, they get further removed from the technical work and skills. Leaders who can stay current on the technical evolution and advancement in their fields will be more effective. Like technical skills, technology is changing at an alarming pace and it’s necessary to stay ahead of the curve to remain relevant and successful.
It is often a challenge for leaders to allocate time to technical skill growth and apply their technical skills to current projects without neglecting leadership responsibilities or taking away opportunites from their team. To stay up to date, find ways to connect to the work without adding an extra layer or distraction for employees. This could include reverse shadowing events, where leaders sit with front-line team members to learn the latest trends and updates. Another example is topic showcases where employees present on their areas of expertise to leaders and co-workers allowing the organization to learn from them. Roundtable events offer space for technical knowledge transfer or leaders could meet with subject matter experts to understand their actions and recommendations. The more leaders understand the technical side of the business, the more they can solve problems before they occur and leverage organizational expertise when needed.
With employees working remotely, virtual organizational communications, and customers located outside of their traditional workplaces, it is easy for leaders to become disconnected from the business. This disconnection magnifies the importance for business knowledge, specifically around industry standards, customer expectations, strategic investments, project execution, cash generation and flow, and talent management. The need for this type of business knowledge will remain stable as organizations prepare to return to in-person work and blended work environments. It is easy for leaders to become narrowly focused when the tempo of business increases; instead, intentionally and continually look for opportunities to expand business knowledge and cross-functional understanding.
Leaders can grow in their business knowledge by looking for ways to learn more about the business itself, both internally and perhaps more importantly externally. Strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities can be collected for a strategic gap analysis to learn more about the current posture and future potential of the business. Does your organization hold information sessions for each business area that leaders can attend? Can you join meetings for adjacent teams or divisions? Could you sit down with a finance or contracts leader to learn about their functional area? What are your competitors doing that you are not? Are their lessons to be learned from adjacent industries?
As the post-pandemic work environment evolves, so do the essential skills for the post-pandemic leader. Effective leadership consists of leadership skills, technical skills, and business knowledge. Leaders who excel at traditional leadership skills can be successful across industries and business areas. Leaders who combine the leadership skills of delegation, strategic planning and execution, communication, championing diversity, and leading remote teams, with technical skills and business knowledge can elevate to the next level, adapt to the changing work architecture, and thrive leading teams and organizations.