If there is one group least likely to attract public sympathy for the challenges of the last 12 months it’s probably corporate leaders. But it has been a tough pandemic for those at the top. Many have had to make and implement very difficult decisions, as well as displaying extraordinary versatility in responding to changing circumstances at rapid pace. For a few, the pandemic has represented an unprecedented opportunity; for far more, it has posed an existential threat to their organisation.
The stresses of leadership were intensifying even before the pandemic. The growing requirement for inclusion, diversity and equality in the workplace, coupled with Environmental Social and Governance focus from investors, and need to demonstrate purpose, all heap more pressure on top of the multiple challenges corporate leaders already face – from increasing profits to developing winning strategies.
And the signs are that many leaders are struggling to cope. Many tell me that they feel as though they are walking on eggshells, managing from a fear of doing the wrong thing, worried about provoking litigation, and they say that balancing all the conflicting demands upon their time and attention can leave them feeling shattered.
Leaders, in other words, need coping strategies to build their own resilience (adapting well in the face of adversity and recovering quickly from difficulties) but it is more than that, it is connecting at a deeper level within themselves and with others. Covid has accelerated and also provoked greater self-reflection in everyone. Leaders need a toolkit designed for this new era, and they need the support of their board to do so. One aspect of this is simply said but not always so easily embraced, ‘self-care’. Finding time for oneself, to decompress, nourish and grow within our own selves can be more difficult than one thinks. It is an entirely false economy not to carve out that time, man or woman, young or old, to know, honour and grow in one’s own presence, consciousness and personal truth. Another observation that clarified in my mind recently is the significance of a limiting mindset, one that may be indifferent to spiritual values or dismissive of a shift in the ‘feel’ of things. An unwillingness to be open to a power greater than ourselves, whether that be universal energy, god or something else, a unwillingness to consider something different to the ‘old’ way of doing things can hold us back, in leadership and in life. It all lands on connectedness and it starts with each one of us. It begins with you.
Awareness of the issues could be the first step towards securing coaching or other support that would help build additional skills and develop new tools that support a more agile, dynamic and constantly modernising world.
A re-framing is also required. The old mechanistic, process-driven Newtonian approach to leadership that is taught at Business School – with its emphasis on the levers that control the organisation – doesn’t equip you to deal with the chaos and complexity that characterise today’s environment. Quantum leadership – drawing its inspiration from the Quantum Theory of Physics – recognises this changing paradigm and nurtures leaders who can thrive on chaos and uncertainty. As management thinker Danah Zohar points out, quantum leaders “thrive on the potential latent in uncertainty and are adept at unleashing the creativity of self-organization. More important, they are vision -and value- led; they adapt quickly, are unafraid to play with the boundaries and reinvent the rules and celebrate diversity.” Tangible services exist in the form of transformational tools such as Quantum Energy Coaching that aims to change self-limiting beliefs at the subconscious level . Claudia Roth is such a coach and says “the level of self-awareness of any leader, dictates the future success of their business or organisation”.
It’s being widely acknowledged that a different set of leadership skills is required going forward, attributes that play to the less certain outlook as well as the broadening social agenda. There’s a shift from ‘communication’ to ’empathy’, for example. And, explained by University of Texas professor Brené Brown, that’s because empathy “drives connection” – it enables you to feel the pain others are going through and to learn through that connectivity. Research by CEMS – the global alliance of business schools – bears out the conclusion that leadership characteristics such as empathy and compassion have become more important as a result of the pandemic, at the expense of more traditional attributes like communication and strategic vision. Resilience remains vital but the staying power needed in today’s society has a tenderness and humility that deepens roots and reaches more people.
Ultimately, organisations need leaders who are prepared to lead in a transforming landscape and capable of taking others along. To do that you have to develop confidence in what you believe in, to lead from the heart and from your own values. The more connected you are, to yourself and others, the stronger your foundation for leading the charge.