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COVID-19 demands a new era of authentic leadership


Around the world, millions of people are participating in a mass experiment in home working, resulting in special demands for leaders to guide and motivate their teams.

What might at first have seemed a one-time incident is in fact a profound turning point for the nature of our work and people management. But it is also an opportunity to learn, and evolve competitive advantage.

Remote work and virtual teams accelerate the transformation of existing leadership models

Our recent paper, Virtual organizations need real leadership, showed that by imposing virtual collaboration, the current crisis provides important insights into our understanding of leadership. In effect, it forces us to transform our leadership models to meet the need for digitization and virtualization.

Virtual leadership underlines the urgency to clearly communicate the values, the meaning, and the vision of projects and strategic intentions. We need to build identity using storytelling and emotional response to convey passion and commitment, motivate, and create a sense of unity. Because it replaces chance meetings in the hallway or at the water cooler, contact via digital media should be more intense, take place more frequently, and above all, with greater discipline. Make it a habit to get in touch with your employees spontaneously and don’t miss regular appointments. Because even if there are no urgent problems to solve, that doesn’t mean that there is nothing to discuss.

Virtual collaboration means replacing face-to-face work and colocation with an efficient digital leadership style.

Reliability, integrity, and confidentiality foster trust and respect. A positive feedback culture encourages experimentation, adaptability, and a willingness to learn. The use of different communication channels and media and the integration of entertaining elements provides variety and fun. The establishment of overarching structures increases the dynamics of the team and creates synergy within the company.

In order to foster virtual team spirit and better lead and serve the team, you have to develop emotional intelligence. The much-used term “mindfulness” is experiencing a renaissance. Authenticity creates enthusiasm and eliminates uncertainty. Thinking ahead, making courageous decisions, and more importantly, implementing them creates a framework in which the team can take on greater responsibility.

However, the most important thing is not to be afraid of trying out new things with your employees – because remote work needs a strong, motivated team.

Share a virtual morning coffee, use a mood barometer to check out how people are feeling, or organize a joint meditation session – anything that fosters a sense of unity and togetherness – because physical distancing does not have to mean social distancing.

In the long run, ecosystems will expect leaders to play a mobilizing and facilitating role

The experience of virtualization and remote work will lead to a paradigm shift that will require new comprehensive leadership models and skills. Leaders will be judged by their capability to mobilize their ecosystem and facilitate new competencies. As we move towards an authentic leadership model in the post-crisis world, some leadership qualities will become more important as they support the mobilization of ecosystems. Digital literacy to operate effectively in a digital workplace, agility to build momentum for projects, and purpose to build solidarity and engage employees will become crucial. However, the model must also include new leadership qualities that the crisis has shown to be necessary, and facilitate the development of those competencies. Traits such as building relationships to foster fun and enthusiasm, nomadism to organize remote work, and emotional intelligence to foster conscious stress management and resilience building will challenge the status quo and drive evolution.

Authentic Leadership

As they work to develop an authentic leadership model for the new, post-crisis digital age, leaders will face significant business challenges as well as the shifting psychological needs and patterns of their teams. Virtual leadership can adopt modern operating models such as the minimum viable organization. The reduction in travel and facility costs and the increase in motivation and engagement result in higher productivity, a better employee experience, and competitive advantage, as research by Gallup has shown.

Capitalizing on lessons learned from the crisis to transform our leadership model

We encourage organizations to gear their leadership models towards a truly virtual evolution. To efficiently use the lessons learned from total virtualization, it is important to consider feedback from employees, leaders, and clients regarding leadership during the crisis. We suggest a three-phase approach:

  1. Understand the post-crisis baseline:
  • Assess the status quo using questionnaires.
  • Evaluate results with data analysis.
  • Design the approach and define the leadership vision.
  1. Development and rollout of the leadership development program:
  • Reflect on your self-awareness in a self-assessment.
  • Develop digital literacy by combining virtual classroom training, a digital self-directed learning academy, hackathons, or other formats.
  • Foster emotional intelligence with mindfulness and resilience.
  • Build a sense of intrapreneurship – entrepreneurial behavior within your organization – using collaboration or serious games to reward those behaviors.
  • Consolidate the learnings and deepen the experiences by peer coaching or communities of practice.
  1. Sustain the leadership model:
  • Realize the transformation by implementing the new leadership model.
  • Be accountable by showing responsibility for designing the future.
  • Build networks by organizing communities of practice and think tanks.

Does this transition to a truly new leadership model feel overwhelming? Always keep in mind that authentic leadership’s key purpose is to develop a sense of belonging, shared values and success. All of these are aspects that may easily disappear in the modern, virtual workplace.

As a leader, it is your role to create the environment for your team to work towards common goals, and to offer each other support.

This way, you create a true feeling of human interaction in addition to each individual’s daily to-do list – and you trigger motivation and synergies that will last for the long-term.

Find out how we help enterprises make a success of Remote Working.

Co – author

Luisa Schoenwald

Manager | People and Organization

Capgemini Invent

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