Sushil Jhangiani

Sushil Jhangiani

How will leadership change after Covid?

With the development of two vaccines and several others expected in the next few weeks or months, it finally looks as if there is light at the end of the long Covid tunnel. However, this deadly virus has left and continues to leave, a trail of disruption across every facet of the Indian business world. Its impact has highlighted the weaknesses and the strengths of large businesses in India, forcing leaders and companies to make critical changes to position themselves for long-term, future-ready success or face extinction.

Organisations across India, and globally, must comprehend that amongst all the ambiguity, there is one clear certainty – that when we go back to ‘normal’, things are going to be anything but. So, what could things look like? And how will this impact leadership in the ‘new normal’?

Here are five predictions:

  1. Clarity of vision and purpose will be even more important than before

We know that clarity of vision and meaningful work are both critical elements in keeping people engaged. In the world ahead, it looks likely that most people will adopt a hybrid model of working from home and in the office. As high as 88% of the workforce in India prefer to have the flexibility of working from home, and 69% believe their productivity has increased while working remotely, according to a survey by Sap Concur. Teams will meet each other less often, and the glue of engagement that physical meetings provide will be less. One way to make up for this will be through clarity of vision and purpose to keep people engaged, even when they’re alone at home.

  1. Real delegation and complete trust will be critical

Bosses will be unable to pseudo-delegate, i.e., delegate the task but keep the decision making, as they might have done pre-Covid. They will not meet their people often enough to continue with this mode of managing. The only way to get work done will be to delegate both task and decision making, and live with the outcome. This is going to mean completely trusting your people to have the competence to do things, and the value-set to deliver work in the way you want it done.

  1. Leaders will have the time and space to think strategically – with no nitty-gritty work to hide behind!

If decision making on tactical tasks is also going to be delegated, what are bosses going to do? They will have no choice but to spend their time focusing on strategy. There will be no crutch of ‘not having time to think of strategy because I’m so involved in the day to day work’. Many leaders will struggle with this since their source of professional identity- doing the work themselves- will be taken away. Some will falter, but overall leadership and organisations will be the better for it.

  1. Leaders will have to actively make space for the ‘soft’ and ‘difficult’ conversations to make up for the lack of ‘water cooler’ talk

A crucial part of engagement is the feeling of belonging. Pre-COVID, a lot of this came from having a coffee with a colleague or chatting at the water cooler. However, bosses will now have to ensure that this is achieved through specially engineered ‘soft’ conversations. These could become part of a regular conversation (spending the last 5 minutes of an online meeting or call catching up on how everyone is doing) or diarised for specific times. Either way, bosses who find these conversations difficult, or shy away from them, will have to actively embrace them going forward.

  1. With much-reduced travel, leaders will have to find ways to create time for themselves at home

One of the less talked about perks of travel is the forced time it gives leaders to spend with themselves. The more reflective leaders use this as a chance to rejuvenate and read while others use it to clear mounting emails. However this ‘down’ time is used, the general theme is to use those hours on the plane, or that evening in the hotel room to get back that feeling of being in control and keeping personal balance. This opportunity will be much reduced, so leaders will have to initiate rituals at home that allow them to find this space and use it to maintain their personal balance.

There will be other changes needed too by leaders in India and across the globe, some very apparent and others more subtle. Later we will talk about what it will take for leaders to cope with all of this.

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