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Out With The Old-Fashioned Leadership Skills: In With the New
The last few years have demonstrated that when employees are working in conditions that allow for positive workplace experiences, both employees and businesses will thrive.
The global analytics and advice firm Gallup recently discovered that leaders and managers must do more than empathize to better employee performance—they must care.
I enlisted the help of several industry experts and Enterprise Connect attendees to address what leadership skills managers must have in 2022 to rearrange or retain top talent in their organization and learn more about what employees need to feel fulfilled and successful in their roles.
Here are the skills managers will be developing for successful workforce management in the future.
Be Authentic, Empathetic, and Lead by Example
Sinead Aylward, VP of contact center technology, Endurance, and one of Enterprise Connect 2022 Women in Enterprise Communications Spotlight Award winners, explained how she developed her leadership skills in her mother’s kitchen in Ireland. Aylward's mother was raised in a time when educating women was not valued, and she did not have the opportunity to complete secondary education. “My leadership developed on the street, playground, in the choir, in the theatre, and in recent years on the soccer field. In those environments, leadership isn’t bestowed because of rank. It’s bestowed because of trust.”
“A seasoned leader takes time to get to know their team members, learn their strengths and weaknesses, learn what motivates them, and know how to challenge them,” Darin Ward, telecom manager and No Jitter contributor, said. Ward defined leadership as “being willing to do anything you would ask your team to do.” He explained if you’re a school principal, leadership might be filling in teaching the class if your teacher called in sick. It's leading a project call if your staff member lost her voice. A respected leader is humble but confident “and will accept the consequences when things go wrong and credit their team members when things go right.”
Gregg Johnson, Invoca CEO and Enterprise Connect 2022 Innovation Showcase participant characterizes his leadership style with two core values—authenticity and empathy.
“This means showing up daily as my true self and acknowledging my expertise and limitations. It’s important as a leader to recognize certain situations and scenarios when you’re not the expert in the room and when to bring others in who know how to get the job done. This [awareness] is the best way I’ve found to build credibility and trust with our team,” Johnson said.
Like Ward, Johnson emphasizes leading by example and adds that recognizing employees as human beings first is part of leadership. “It’s also imperative to lead every day with empathy. While certain [pandemic] restrictions may [have] lifted, we’re still navigating uncharted territory, so it’s essential to understand and recognize that our employees are people first.”
Reduce Stress By Embracing Flexibility
Given the ever-changing times and complexity of the past few years, Ward said leaders must possess patience, adaptability, and quick decision making. “I think we will continue to see changes come quickly, and if we don't remain alert—head on a swivel—we will miss opportunities.”
Aylward said, “We have yet to unpack the collective trauma of the last few years. It’s easy to hide behind the faux pandemic personas—the sourdough bread making, Peloton class taking personas—and pretend that we are all alright.”
Aylward says as a society, it’s apparent we haven’t come to terms with that loss. Therefore, frustration emerges at inopportune times, which we often see in news reports regarding how people treat airline, retail, and customer service staff. “What that means for leaders is—we have to recognize the triggers that may cause the stress levels in our team members to escalate and work to deescalate them.”
We have to be flexible, Aylward says, and recognize while our leadership style had to evolve quickly during the pandemic, our employees’ participation style also evolved. “We aren’t the same people we were two years ago. We won’t get where we need to with mandates and memos. We can’t try to force-fit people into an old model.”
Employee Wellbeing: Put People First
“Employees are the most valuable asset to a company,” Ward said. Making employees feel welcome on day one is important, he added, but keeping employees is paramount. Ward recommends letting your guard down, being authentic with your employees, and getting to know them on a personal level. “If you admit that you are a horrible cook at home, you aren't going to lose the respect of your staff. Instead, you will see them let down their guard a bit to build trust. You don’t have to share your deepest darkest secrets, but don’t be afraid to admit you’re human.”
“More than anything else, I want to be a good human,” Aylward said. Her leadership practice centers on the person, not the position, first. “If I can help [an employee] feel comfortable enough to bring their real self to work, that is the launchpad. That means taking the time to know people, embracing their differences, being respectful of their downtime, listening for the things that may be barriers to participation at work, and helping them find solutions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty results-driven and deadline-driven, but I don’t think you can get the results you want until the people are in the right mindset.”
Find Ways to Support Other Leaders
The first thing that comes to mind, Aylward said, is to amplify a leader’s ideas and ensure they know you value these ideas in roundtable discussions. Second, be a good soundboard for ideas and ask the right questions to help them develop their thoughts. Lastly, trust these leaders to run your organization while you’re on vacation so other leaders can develop cross-functional skills laterally and eventually grow vertically.
“The last few years have taken the wind out of our networking sails,” Ward said. “I've seen meetings so overly scripted that people want an agenda emailed to them so they can screen a potential conversation to see if it has any value to the recipient.”
“When I think of leaders who have helped me the most in my career, it’s the people who helped me take off my blinders and see things differently or provide more context that maybe I was missing,” Janelle Raney, chief marketing officer at Pathlight (another Enterprise Connect 2022 Innovation Showcase participant), said. “Leaders can encourage one another to take risks, point out opportunities, or make introductions to their network. It’s about helping others connect the dots and sharing your expertise.”
Leadership Skills to Develop for 2022 & Beyond
When asked what skills leaders must develop in 2022 to be successful, Aylward said she thinks the skills for success are the same as they have always been. “Listen for what your team is saying and what they are not saying, empower people to reach the solution without telling them what to do, be flexible with your employees and give them the space they need to grow.”
Raney said, “[Leaders] need to become coaches. The best coaches inspire their teams and guide them to success. They build the processes and tools to align on what is most important and have the communication skills to get people engaged.”
Ward wants to see more foresight and big-picture thinking. “It's imperative we look ahead at the change that's coming—good or bad—and invest in the resources to capitalize on opportunities proactively.” We must position ourselves to be ready, he added. “If you aren't ready the moment an opportunity arrives, it's too late—there won't be time to react.”