Article

Leadership Skills for the Post-Pandemic Era — Opening Statement

Posted June 22, 2022 | Leadership | Amplify
Leadership Skills for the Post-Pandemic Era
In this issue:

  AMPLIFY  VOL. 1, NO. 6
  

In a recent lunchtime conversation, a colleague and I discussed how adversity stimulates invention and establishes new norms. For example, innovation in motor vehicles and the rapid development of air­craft during WWI was matched by the creation of radar and jet engines in WWII. These examples are visible innovations, yet we were able to observe that management science had similar leaps forward. For instance, scientific management was firmly established after WWI, while operations research and computer science followed WWII.

So what might be management science’s legacy resulting from the extreme adversities experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic? In this edition of Amplify, our contributors discuss the effects of the pandemic from their viewpoints.

Before the pandemic, developing management theory focused on improving effective teamwork through Agile methodology, and John Kotter proposed the dual operating model organization.1 Agile teamwork focused on harnessing a team’s intelligence, energy, and creativity. The dual operating model combines a vertical hierarchical organization with horizontal value stream–aligned structures to use the power of Agile teams. Both concepts, Agile teamworking and the dual operating model, rely on self-managing teams facilitated by a change in leadership approach involving empowerment, trust, and devolved decision making. (If you are unsure about these concepts, take a look at Matt K. Parker’s A Radical Enterprise.2)

Before the pandemic, the dual operating model and self-managing team concepts seemed too niche for mainstream business. Recent events, however, finally dis­pelled the myth that people must be in the office and constantly supervised to be effective. One result of remote work imposed by the pandemic is that many organizations altered their long-standing operating model to include hybrid home/office work.

The pandemic also disproved the idea that a culture where decision making is the sole right of manage­ment is the only way to succeed. During the pandemic, we saw organizations survive and thrive using self-managing teams and devolving decision making. However, as observed in this issue’s concluding article, “Trust Equals Productivity, and Other Pandemic Leadership Lessons,” organizations that failed to adapt or had a lack-of-trust culture saw lower productivity and higher consequences from the pandemic.

The post-pandemic business environment (which has been defined as “the new normal”) has forced leaders to overcome their personal hurdles and adapt. For example, many learned to build teams and trust people working remotely through necessity.

Working remotely did, however, take away our informal communications channels. Some organizations established agenda-free meetings using Teams or Zoom to mirror coffee machine conversations, encourage spontaneous interaction, and build a sense of team. Additionally, organizations found alternative governance mechanisms that could be practiced remotely and could, depending on the levels of sickness, operate even when seasoned leaders were ill or absent. These organizations found that self-managing, manager-less teams could work quite well. Unfortunately, some organizations embraced the self-managing teams concept a little too enthusias­tically, resulting in confused employees and a loss of momentum.

Overall, many leaders found they had to quickly unlearn how they had operated over the past 20 or 30 years and adapt to the new normal.

Many sources have identified that leaders need a mindset shift from the traditional views to the new ways to become Agile. For example, they are switching their behavior from using the authority of their position to collaborating with their people. With the pandemic becoming less severe, leaders are acutely aware that their behavior has altered to enable and empower the abundance of intellect that abides in their teams in the absence of what were once considered essential individuals. These leaders have also developed comfort in operating in a deliberately changing environment of continuous improvement. They are now accustomed to a culture where the status quo is fre­quently chal­lenged and have shifted their mindsets from knowing certainty to experimentation, discovery, and learning.

In This Issue

In our first article, Erin S. Barry, Neil E. Grunberg, Maureen Metcalf, Carla Morelli, and Michael Morrow-Fox suggest that although none of us would choose a 10-year-old computer for our work today, many executives persist in using outdated leadership models and behaviors. They say leaders who want to elevate their capabilities must start by knowing why they lead, then update their behavioral algorithm using the Innovative Leadership framework.

Next, Bob Galen asks, “How are you showing up?” It’s one thing to talk about new ways of working and cultural change, but the actions of the leader count. Galen suggests that changing yourself is a more decisive action to enable your people. He asserts that culture shaping happens whether by design or not, so it’s far better for leaders to be aware of this fact and act intentionally.

In our third article, Lori Silverman explains how leaders can use stories to create greater engagement with staff. She says that seeking different communication patterns enhances relationship building and reverses stress levels in some team members. Silverman demonstrates how executive storytelling can be used to establish direction and motivate teams.

Next, Al Shalloway’s article outlines how leadership’s focus must switch from the people to the processes — the value streams by which the organization operates. He believes leaders can enhance customer experience, increase innovation, and reduce costs with this approach.

Finally, Cutter Expert Esther Derby, Dave Martin, and Tony Ponton present an interesting comparison between organizations that adapted and those that did not. They also suggest remote governance based on the SEEM model (steering, enabling and enhancing, and making).

This edition of Amplify investigates aspects of new normal leadership through several lenses. We hope you enjoy exploring the concepts and perhaps conducting some experiments. Changing oneself is always tricky, yet I find it extremely exciting. What could the new me achieve? What will other people think of the new me? What mountains can I climb, and who can I take with me on the journey?

There’s a saying, “Old keys don’t unlock new doors.” This issue is designed to prompt you to ask, “What could I achieve, and which new door am I prepared to open?”

References

1Kotter, John P. Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World. Harvard Business Review Press, 2014.

2Parker, Matt K. A Radical Enterprise. IT Revolution Press, 2022.

About The Author
Jon Ward
Jon Ward is a Cutter Expert and a member of Arthur D. Little's AMP open consulting network. As CEO for Beneficial Consulting, he focuses on the cultural and transformational aspects of implementing Agile. Mr. Ward currently acts as an Agile catalyst, producing significant bottom-line results for software and business change initiatives. Using Lean-Agile techniques, he redesigns target operating models for efficiency and purpose, resulting in… Read More