Since Covid-19 struck, the primary response by many organizations has been to focus on protecting its people, protecting the firm, and just getting through things. When there’s so much upheaval, mind-boggling change, and such profound uncertainty, this seems to be the obvious and sensible course. Some organizations, on the other hand, also saw the fog of uncertainty as a singular opportunity to not just shift their game strategy, but to rewrite the rules of the game itself.
This shift in leadership approach was just one of many we observed in organizations adapting rapidly to the pandemic, and we wanted to learn more. In June, curious to see what was happening to the practice of leadership through the eyes of our talent and L&D colleagues, we surveyed senior talent and learning leaders around the globe for their take. At that point, we were far enough into the pandemic to have some feel for how things had changed and still at the stage where the future remained uncertain—in some ways, not much different from where we are now. The goal of our study was to determine the new demands these times were placing on our leaders, and how those demands translate into new leadership capabilities we need to build in our leader communities.
What we learned was that there are three capability clusters emerging that successful organizations will need in their leaders. Previous posts have focused on the first two—Leading through Uncertainty and Cultivating Trust. In this post, we turn our attention to the final capability cluster, Reskilling for Opportunity.
Building the business by Reskilling for Opportunity
Leading through Uncertainty and Cultivating Trust are capabilities that focus on addressing the current climate of uncertainty. But to really thrive, organizations need to do more than quickly respond to the problems of the present. Their leaders must be forward-thinking about the business and about their talent. Reskilling for Opportunity focuses on propelling the business into a brighter future by taking full advantage of the destabilized environment around them. There are two key capabilities in this cluster that work together to equip the organization to go beyond survival, reshaping it to become strong and agile in the emerging economic and social environment:
- Foster Innovation: This is the leader’s side of innovation, and it doesn’t mean that leaders themselves must be “inventors”. In fact, many leaders of highly innovative teams aren’t necessarily all that innovative themselves. What they are skilled at is creating an environment where teams naturally and continuously engage in the innovation process. This must go beyond establishing the structures and processes that enable innovation. It must get into creating a culture of psychological safety, curiosity, and experimentation. This capability builds on the foundation created by leaders who have cultivated trust by providing their teams the autonomy and empowerment they need to adapt quickly to changes and to act opportunistically. Here’s where that trust pays off in terms of new innovation and business growth.
- Build Digital Fluency: Many of the changes we are seeing with the pandemic are either driven by—or heavily dependent on—technology, data, and analytics. Building Digital Fluency focuses on a leader being conversant in key digital trends and advancing the use of technology and analytics to improve the business or even leverage new business models. Just as fostering innovation doesn’t mean that a leader must be an innovator, building digital fluency doesn’t mean that every leader needs to become a technologist. Leaders should, however, have a familiarity with concepts and trends that pertain to cybersecurity, predictive analytics, AI, social media, online collaboration, work from home technology, etc. And they should have a basic understanding of (and appreciation for) how they can be relevant to the future of their business.
Despite all the downside of the pandemic, it has also presented us with a window of opportunity—to improve the organization, to make it more relevant in a very new landscape, and to do great things for a world that can use it. But to capitalize on this opportunity, leaders need to focus their teams forward to a new horizon. This can be challenging when so much attention must be paid to keeping things going in the present. But forward-thinking is essential. Reskill your leaders to seize this opportunity.
What leader capabilities do you see as critical for the future of your organization?
By Larry Clark