The following is taken from a livecast video in May 2020 called DigiTalks, between Digital University’s Izabela Bartnicka and Monica Parker, where they discussed the future of work in a post-COVID19 era, as well as Monica’s HRevolution virtual conference session, ‘The New Abnormal – Leading in a Strange Global Landscape. This is the second instalment in a two-part series.

DigiTalks: It sounds really interesting! Let’s talk more about leaders. At the beginning of this, I think many managers faced difficulties about how to manage people who were not in the office. They don’t have real contact with them face-to-face daily, but they need to manage things remotely. So, at the beginning they organized twice-a-day or three-times-a-day video conferences just to check whether people were working or not. Now it’s changing because we are more comfortable with remote working.

What is your advice for leaders in this new abnormal post-COVID era? How they should change? What should they do to be not only successful and efficient, but also to have good communication with their teams?

Monica Parker: I’m very cautious about leadership guidance that says, ‘Oh, here’s a shiny new thing – follow that.’ And so the ideas I’m talking to with leaders are really the pieces of evergreen advice. It’s the kind of stuff that we should all have been doing for a very long time, but now it’s even more important. These are elements of real human leadership, and there are four that I’ll be talking about at HRevolution.

Autonomy and trust


The first is autonomy. I’ve touched on that before, but simply, give people autonomy wherever you can. You know you weren’t kidding anybody when you had the three meetings a day. It wasn’t just to make sure people are okay, it was to make sure people were working, because you didn’t trust them.

Trust and autonomy go hand in hand and to understand how to give that over to people, how to let people work the way they work best, and to give that choice as much as possible is so important. There is a ton of research showing that autonomous teams work better, that they perform better, that they produce better results. And so that is a real test to me of a leader – the ability to hand over control and to resist the impulse to hold reigns even tighter, despite that being the natural inclination.

Empathy and communication


The next element is empathy. It should go without saying, but we really need to ramp up empathy. And that is not necessarily being in someone’s grill saying, ‘How are you? How are you? How are you?’ I think that sometimes as leaders we want to constantly be doing ‘something.’ This one is tough.  We really have to slow down and just listen to people. Throw up that that flare that says, ‘I’m here if you need me.’ But it’s okay if people don’t take it up, because everyone’s going to metabolize this in a different way. We have to allow people to manage it in their time. And being empathetic sometimes is just waiting with someone, just being present with them, and allowing them to feel really, really crappy and helping them move through that.

Purpose and passion


The next is something I’ve also talked about for a really long time and it’s a Greek word, meraki. It’s a combination of purpose, passion and grit and it puts the focus on being a purpose driven business. Right now, I’m seeing a lot of profiteering, a lot of people trying to make money off this experience, and some shady ethical decisions. This is a time, more than ever, that leaders need to focus on their purpose, both their organizational purpose and individual purpose. As a leader, when you tap into that, you make fewer poor decisions, and I’m regrettably seeing some bad decision-making happening right now.

Slow leadership


The last is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately – the art of kintsugi. It’s a manifestation of the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which honours imperfection. In kintsugi, when a piece of pottery gets broken, you put it back together, but you highlight the fissures with precious metal. I think it’s a really beautiful metaphor for what we’re going through right now, which is that you can’t rush this process, but even more importantly, you don’t want to just spackle over the broken bits.

This is a time to look at the systems that are breaking – organizational systems, technological systems, social systems, governmental systems – and examine the fissures rather than just cover over them in a rush to get to the new normal. Rather than say, ‘It’s fixed now,’ let’s really analyse those broken pieces. Let’s decide how we want to put them back together and when we do that, highlight those areas where they broke. It needs to be done in a thoughtful, very concerted way and not rush to some kind of solution.

DT: This idea seems to me like we’re not building something from scratch. It’s not that we need to necessarily rebuild our company strategy or culture but rather take what we have and perhaps put those puzzle pieces in a different combination.

MP: Something like this, yes. And I think we can look and say, ‘You know what? This piece doesn’t serve me anymore.’ But I’m just seeing a lot of rush to solutions. We’re at an existential inflection point and we don’t want to miss these opportunities. And I do see this as an opportunity. I’m not glossing over the pain that people are going through. But in that duality of disruption there is an opportunity that exists, and if we rush to try to put it all back together we risk that it will be pretty similar to what it was before. Then we’re missing that opportunity.

We’re trying to rewire our brains from 40, 50, 60 years of ingrained behaviour. If we don’t want to just slip back into those neural pathways, we really need to focus on what is it that we want to carry forward. And do that in a very thoughtful way. No, I don’t think that it’s going look fundamentally different, but I think that there will be things that will forever be changed. I hope some of those are that we have more remote working, that we have more autonomous workforces and that we have more empathetic leadership.

DT: Thank you very much.

MP: Thank you! 

Follow the series and read part one: Making Remote Working Work – Discussions about The New Abnormal

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