3 essential elements of leadership for the ‘next normal’

A vice president of communications for Randstad USA makes the case for what lessons leaders should take from a turbulent 2020.

How to lead beyond COVID-19

[Editor’s Note: PR Daily has partnered with The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations to develop our newest column, Lessons in Leadership. This column will rotate among Plank Center Board of Advisor members, their emerging leaders network and board alumni, concentrating on moments of personal leadership and the lessons they impart.]

Since last March, our world has been disrupted and our world of work has changed more than any of us ever would have imagined. I started a new role on April 1, 2020, during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and I had my leadership epiphany immediately after my onboarding as I prepared a communication for our North America CEO regarding the crisis.

In determining the content, and more importantly the tone of the message, I realized that we were working in a very different environment. What people needed to hear and how they needed to be managed would be changed forever. Our new work environments are characterized by fluid structures, virtual teams and cooperation in networks—and our leadership needed to reflect these changes. Our leadership required a different type of empathy, a heightened sense of support, and a calming effect.

Now organizations are starting to explore a phased return to previous work arrangements, and I ask myself, what new skills and new ways of leading are needed to thrive in this next normal?

Here are my top three:

1. Authenticity. Strong teams are guided by authentic leaders who are genuinely self-aware and inspire loyalty and trust by consistently being who they are. As our teams slowly return to more typical ways of working, we have the opportunity to show up more authentically by practicing openness and humility, and creating a safe space for team members to do the same.

2. Personalization. One of the biggest takeaways from the rapid conversion to remote work is that individuals and teams can adapt and remain productive.

Traditional leaders believe uniform working hours, a shared location and a common approach to management drive efficiency and ensure performance. However, the rapid onset of the pandemic also revealed that these standardized systems are fragile when faced with unexpected disruption. Leading a resilient team requires a willingness to adapt your leadership style and tailor your approach to tap the unique capabilities of your team.

3. Delegation 2.0. Effective delegation empowers and engages team members by demonstrating that you trust them to succeed. But, in the new world of work, traditional models of delegation aren’t enough.

To build a resilient team, especially one that works remotely, leaders must move away from centralized ways of what to do and how to do it to a more coordinated approach that gives team members space to approach their work in ways that best align with their capabilities and preference and then hold them accountable.

If I’ve learned anything from the disruption of COVID-19, it is the fragility of what once was. I’ve dedicated myself to being a more empathetic leader that appreciates and makes use of the unique qualities of my team members while giving them the support and encouragement they need to succeed. The “next normal” looks very different from what we are used to, but I want to be one of those leaders that jumps into the air to catch the pieces before they fall and put them together into a new, better-fitting structure.

Alicia R. Thompson, APR, is the vice president for communications at Randstad USA and a member of The Plank Center’s board of advisors.

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