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The Challenges of Modern Leadership – What Does the Future Hold For Leaders?

Elle Whitehead | 14th July 2021

The world is changing at an unprecedented rate. The uncertainty around the world of work is adding a unique challenge for business leaders. They have to juggle the impact of Covid and Hybrid Working. In the face of uncertainty, leaders have a central role to play when it comes to building a new normal. At The Happiness Index, we’re lucky to have an amazing group of leaders, so we thought we’d talk to them about how other business leaders can respond to the changes that are happening in the world of work. 

The lasting impact of Covid

Jennifer Crampton, our Head of People, explains that Covid has expedited changes we were already seeing.  “Our use of physical workspace, presentism may be challenged even in large corporations. It’s almost like we have fast-forwarded the world of work a number of years when it comes to flexi working, agile working, WFH models and so on.” She advises that leaders need to listen to what their people need; “leaders will need to be open to change. According to a survey by Microsoft, 73% of employees surveyed wanted flexible remote work options. 66% of businesses said they might redesign physical spaces to accommodate hybrid working. Many people will no longer accept or want the command or control way of working.”

Noelle Kelly, our Finance Manager, agrees that leadership is changing. She also sees a change to a more multidirectional style of leadership. She says “everyone should feel empowered to be a leader in their own role and Covid has proved we can take ownership of all of our own roles.”

The rise of flexibility

Generally, our leaders see the shift as being towards flexibility. Noelle believes that “more companies have realised that being flexible and working around people’s lives is the way forward. The workplace shouldn’t consume your life. We will see more people doing a hybrid of working from home and coming into the office. Flexibility could also mean changing up hours rather than doing the traditional 9-5“.

Jennifer explains, “Leaders should be more flexible, be more open to what colleagues’ needs and wants are in-order to recruit, attract and retain key talent. If they don’t, people can and will move to organisations where their needs are better met. Leaders should expect and want to be more open to doing things differently, being more innovative and being able to think more creatively about how and where people do their jobs.”

Remote and hybrid culture

Mark Thompson, our Head of Growth, believes that remote and hybrid teams are closer teams. He explains, “Personally, I feel so much closer to my team than I ever did before, even though I see them in-person less. Getting to know everyone on a personal level with flatmates roaming in the background, dogs barking on calls, kids screaming for attention. That sense of connection, has for THI at least, led to a stronger more collective culture – we were all in the bunker together.”

Chris Hyland, our Co-Founder and Chief Customer Officer, explains the importance of really getting to know and fostering close relationships with your team in a hybrid or remote environment.  “In the office, you can sense when someone isn’t right. Can pull them aside and see if they are ok. Or if you lose a big customer, you could go for impromptu drinks and feel out the situation. Understanding how your people feel is more important than ever in a remote situation.”

Leadership in a hybrid environment

Our leaders all agree that trust is the central theme of any hybrid working environment. Mark explains that being welcomed into his team’s homes via Zoom has led to a closer relationship and more trust. “Trust is the most important thing we can offer our teams at the moment, it will pay off in the long run. If it doesn’t, you have the wrong people!”

Chris agrees. He says, “Pre-Covid, leaders will have felt they had a good level of control, whereas now there’s a lot more trust that’s needed.”

Noelle points out that trust needs to go both ways. As well as employers trusting their teams, people also need to be able to trust their company. The best way to build this trust is through communication. “Transparency is even more important in a hybrid working world – being open about company performance and direction which will in turn create trust throughout the company”, she explains. 

Communication and technology

Jennifer explains the impact of Covid on technology in the office. She says “the last year has taught leaders that having good technology links allows organisations and colleagues to thrive. Good technology connectivity over the last year has been paramount for business to keep going. This has also allowed colleagues to keep in touch with each other as well as with their teams, the wider organisation and to be able to maintain even 1:1 relationships.”

Mark warns against seeing technology as a panacea which can solve problems. He argues “like any digital transformation project since the beginning of time (well the computer), technology will act as an enabler but will not cure all your woes. The reality is we are social beings, collaborating in person is what gives us energy. That said collaboration tools, zooms, teams, google meets have provided an outlet for us to stay connected and created a number of efficiencies in terms of day to day”.

Chris agrees, and adds a practical tip “you cannot over communicate. You have to communicate things 5 times, the same message, for it to get through. Use as many different styles of communication as you can – phone calls, video calls, emails, instant messaging apps, every source you can think of is getting your message out there so people can see it.”

Growth and diversification

Many organisations are growing and diversifying. This provides a specific leadership challenge, particularly when working remotely, or in a hybrid environment. If this is something you are doing as a company our team has several tips. 

Jennifer stresses the importance of listening to your team. She explains, “ it’s always good for any leader to keep their finger on the pulse of an organisation through hearing what’s going on, what the word is on the street. Ensure you continuously nurture relationships in and outside of leadership circles of trust. Creating an open listening culture, with candid, continuous feedback will help give a clearer picture of the wider organisation. ”

Chris recommends that you focus on communication. This should particularly focus on behaviours and actions you want to see. He says, “keep reinforcing who you are as a company and what is expected from the team.” 

Noelle points out that onboarding is a key stress point where impact can be made. “Make effort with new starters – being onboarded virtually is difficult so reaching out and putting newbies at ease is key.”

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