What Skills Do Leaders Need In a Post-Covid World?
Leadership StrategiesCareer TransitionsCareer AdviceLeadershipBoard Composition and SuccessionBoard and CEO AdvisorySustainabilityExecutive SearchBoard Director and Chair SearchAssessment and Benchmarking
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Clarke Murphy
September 15, 2021
4 min read
Leadership StrategiesCareer TransitionsCareer AdviceLeadershipBoard Composition and SuccessionBoard and CEO AdvisorySustainabilityExecutive SearchBoard Director and Chair SearchAssessment and Benchmarking
Executive Summary
It is never easy to be a leader, but these are more challenging times than most. 
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Few executives will have faced such a severe test in their career as the Coronavirus pandemic. 

But the difficulties experienced over recent months, no matter how significant they seem to us now, may be just the start of a long list of challenges leaders will have to contend with in the coming months and years. Consider that your company may want to open business before your employees are ready to come back. You will have to balance employee safety with aggressiveness in the market, even if it means giving up share to competitors. And all sorts of market assumptions—the foundation upon which you built your understanding of the world—lie in ruin. Many business models will need to be rebuilt from scratch. 

What is emerging is a business environment that is vastly different from the one that most leaders have experienced in recent decades. With this, the skills needed to succeed in the future will be vastly different too. 

What will it take? Russell Reynolds Associates recently identified six core behaviors that leaders should focus on and look for in their leadership teams during these challenging times: 

Bravery: Be brave in thinking independently and in making very difficult decisions. You are not a bystander to what is happening right now, but an active participant. Adopt a sense of self-efficacy, or feeling of agency, with a mindset that you can act and make decisions that will improve outcomes. With these in place, you will need to be resilient and able to withstand and work through the problems you face, as well as the resulting public scrutiny around your decisions. 

Authenticity and Empathy: Display authenticity and empathy in all that you do. It is also important that you are a context-sensing communicator who is close to “perfect pitch” in your communications with different audiences and in varying situations. In challenging times, your ability to show openness and vulnerability is critical for building rapport with others. 

Purpose Driven: As a leader, you must be able to connect the organization to societal purpose and explain your organization’s “reason for being.” This source of belonging, engagement and motivation is very important overall, but it is especially critical when emerging from a period of crisis. Aim to create a shared narrative to guide and galvanize people around strategy. 

Offensive and Defensive Agility: Think differently about the opportunities and challenges in front of you. You will need to know how and when to deploy both an “offensive” and a “defensive” mindset and how to approach issues systematically while thinking across multiple horizons. What are the impacts now and in the future of the decisions you make today? You get there by being inclusive in how you create and harvest disparate perspectives, and you execute cleanly by managing the pace of your teams, their decision cycles and their operations. 

Financial and Operating “Sharpness”: You will need a strong level of financial and operating “sharpness” to navigate the inevitable financial and economic challenges the organization will face. As part of this, develop a strategy that is grounded in a strong understanding of operations and what is possible to achieve given your resources and circumstances. 

Forced Digital Acceleration: Embrace digital tools and practices now, even if you were hesitant about them before. From innovation to remote work, digital is now critical to your goals as a leader. But you must also be wide-eyed about the associated challenges and threats that come from a reliance on technology. 

Are you demonstrating these core behaviors?