1. Communication 
  2. Dealing with VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity)
  3. Emotional Intelligence
  4. Digital Transformation

 

We’re not really into prognostication around here. However, as the singular most disruptive event in modern history continues to unfold around (and on top of!) all of us, we have some predictions about what effective leadership tomorrow should look like. 

No, we don’t like to read too deeply into tea leaves at Sketch Development, but we like to at least humor ourselves that our experience gives us some insight into the skillset leaders will need both to get through this pandemic moment, and thrive beyond it. Agile isn’t just useful for rapid product development and technology. It’s also a toolkit for effective leadership in the best of times…and especially during and after a crisis.  

Say It Like It Is 

One thing that is distinctive about COVID over other crises is that it’s repositioned companies at almost opposite poles nearly instantaneously: Companies (and industries) are either doing gangbuster/never-before-seen business or they’re on the brink of insolvency.   

Your team(s) are well aware of this and they know how the ground is shifting beneath them. They’re either panicking about losing their jobs or drowning from deluges of work. Whatever you do right now to manage your reality, there’s one thing that you can absolutely control: Communication.  

Don’t spare them the truth. If you’ve had issues in the past with communicating unvarnished truths as a leader, now is the time to start. Almost nothing is a better antidote to anxiety and uncertainty than honesty. No one needs unfounded optimism right now. What they need is authenticity.  

Deliver that truth in bite-sized pieces. Be honest, but you don’t want to drown anyone in bad news. Truth kernels delivered in short meetings and messaging keep the group focused on work and on their mental well-being. Be upfront about how you see the next quarter, and next six months unfolding.   

Agile workplaces encourage collaboration and experimentation. Change is a key ingredient in that mix. Agile leadership should always include showing teams not just how to adapt to that change, but how to embrace it. The more you are upfront about what that change is and how it’s going to impact your people, the more they can prepare and the more they will respect you for that honesty. 

Learn, Study, and Share this Acronym: VUCA 

As much as we’ve been tossing around terms like “unprecedented,” there are many other times in human history where we have had to deal with crisis and disruption. Those disruptions have led to knowledge, and we can learn a lot from this tidy lesson from history as to how to cope with what’s happening around us now.  

VUCA: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. This term was conceptualized in the late 80s by a couple of academics who were studying the impacts of massively disruptive social and economic events.   

If there’s a more “now” acronym that can be layered onto 2020 more neatly and perfectly, then we haven’t found it. Agile looks to create champions of change and transformation. To become a champion of change, we first need methods to help us understand how change impacts social and business structures.   

Business leaders have made connections between VUCA and Agile before, and now seems as good a time as any for us to do the same.  

Source: Harvard Business Review  

How can you incorporate some of this tried-and-true logic (the U.S. Military used this as their basis to cope with a post Soviet Russia in the 1990s) could likely help ferry you as a leader and organization through the post-pandemic transition.   

Try this as an exercise: Pass around this Forbes article and use it as a basis for discussion about how this theory is driving your culture right now.  

Emotional Intelligence 

Emotional intelligence informs not just your actions but how your culture responds to pressure.  

Emotional intelligence is a job skill. It’s also a fundamental ingredient of Agile leadership. And while it sounds intangible, an emotional IQ is defined by concrete identifiable, components: 

Social Skills

All good leaders needed to be respectful and communicative prior to COVID. The world was just both flipped over onto itself and ripped inside out. How well you collaborate in this environment will show others just how important that it is to do the same.

Self Regulation

We’ve all been in reaction mode since early 2020 and that has probably led to some emotional confrontations both at home and at work. That’s true for everyone. Show others how to take a beat and make decisions in a measured, controlled, and proactive way and they’ll follow suit.

Motivation

How to stay motivated when uncertainty is the norm? Strike a balance between the task in front of you while being aware of the big picture. In other words: remember the long game and try to get folks to avoid being overly myopic.

Empathy

If there’s one word that defines an empathetic person it’s: Listening. Work on your active listening skills. The moment your staff realizes they’re being heard, the more they will see you as someone who respects and understands their feelings and emotional condition.

Self Awareness

Leaders, you sit at the top of a food chain. What you do always rolls down hill and affects everyone below that decision. So, always ask yourself this before you speak or take any action: “How is what I’m about to do going to impact the people around me?”

Move at the Speed of Digital Transformation  

Almost three in four CFOs plan to shift at least 5 percent of previously on-site employees to permanently remote positions post-COVID-19, according to Gartner Group (by way of McKinsey).  

A lot of teams just learned in short order what they weren’t ready for, and adapted. We’ve spoken to a lot of both existing and prospective clients who learned, the hard way, just how brittle many of their internal processes really were as soon as they all had to be hoisted, and hosted, online.   

Strong leaders of the future will leverage digital transformation. Today, digest and harvest the lessons you just learned. Rebuild workflows and development cycles to incorporate digital transformation.   

What we don’t know is what elements of the “distance economy” were temporarily necessary during COVID and those that are here to stay. Assume that your customers and many of your staff will embrace many of the advantages of remote work and distant transactions.   

We don’t think that you need to consider what “these times” have signified to every aspect of your industry. You’re going to know soon enough (because, like any good company, you’re going to ask) how the pandemic accelerated digital transformation for your customers and constituents.   

Today? Study how the pandemic has already accelerated digital transformation for you and your company. This little exercise (which is 100% evergreen) will immediately highlight what you’re doing well, what needs work, what needs to be addressed today, and where you need support and further training  

  • How familiar are you with the digital tools that your team is now using regularly?
  • What did 2020 show you about your digital infrastructure?
  • How have you codified the digital transformations you made, both personally and professionally, in 2020?
  • How are you discussing and processing the current state of your digital transformation as a leader?
  • How often are you asking your team about how you can facilitate digital transformation in their roles?

Commit to Hard and Soft Skill Training  

“Now is the time for companies to double down on their learning budgets and commit to reskilling. Developing this muscle will also strengthen companies for future disruptions.”
McKinsey, 2020. 

Speak the same language. It’s vital that you understand every single lexicon that your team uses. It’s equally vital that you invest in skill training for your team so you all learn together.  

To emerge as strongly as possible from this moment, skills training is a must. If there’s a theme here, it’s that you already know what you need to know about how to future proof your company and your skills for the next crisis. The critical question is: do you have the communication and technical skills to embrace and drive that change?  

All business leaders should consider themselves as coachable as their teams. When we are constantly moving at the pace of change, taking a few days of the week to process and reset. 2020 has been a difficult year, and we still don’t really know what’s around the corner. Preparing now may ensure that you emerge stronger and better prepared than you’ve ever been. 

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