Leadership is often the most singled-out contributor to success (or not) when discussing how we engage, enthuse and excite people working in organisations.

It summarises the must-have characteristics, values, and traits of a leader to get the most out of their resources – human or otherwise. Over time, leadership styles have evolved to reflect the needs of the environment, society, the organisation, and the individuals who work within them.

“Effective leadership” was one of the historic leadership styles that focused on the basic traits of a good leader. Good communication skills, effective decision making, and people motivation were among the first-generation of ideas. It was soon updated to “strategic leadership”, adding an extra dimension of care through coaching and delegation, increasing its success in handling different personalities. 

Eventually, it evolved into “transformational leadership,” which talks about change management: getting an extra edge over others by unlearning habits that are no longer self / other-serving, openness to new ideas, a bias towards action rather than endless analysis, an agile mindset, cross-cultural engagement, and taking calculated risks.

With COVID-19’s impact on the working world in all corners of the globe, these ‘tried and tested’ leadership skill sets are being revisited once again:

# 1 – Know Thyself

You cannot hope to lead a group of people without knowing yourself. Becoming a leader is not about mastery of leadership skills and values, rather it’s about knowing your strengths and weaknesses. Then using these to maximise joint benefits from activities such as how you deal with people or build your extended team.

Being branded as a leader is not merely a formal position on the hierarchy. It is the mindset of wanting to lead and deliver over what is expected – with and through others.

# 2 – Get the fundamentals right

What’s in most generic training programs and articles about leadership? Effective communication skills are among the top of this list! In 2021, we see additional nuances such as virtual presentation, cross-cultural communication, and executive presence. It encompasses the ability to ‘read the room’, properly deliver the message, smoothly check for understanding and truly be present and LISTEN. 

In today’s generation, emotional intelligence is also embedded in the fundamentals of an effective leader. The ability to identify, manage and express your own emotions in a healthy way, and identify and manage those of others is what separates the winners from the woeful. To complement this would be an innate understanding of different personalities in different demographics, and using this knowledge to optimise their personal development. 

# 3 – Become a Visionary 

Successful leaders are those who can look – and think – out of the box. If we keep within our silos and do what we have always done, then we will forever be ‘legends in our own lunchboxes’. A single solution to problems does not exist. Challenges may be common in different industries, but the approach to addressing these vary. Going beyond what is normal is what led to many ground-breaking innovations. Case in point: Tesla. Apple. Uber. 

Having a vision and aligning your team towards this helps everyone see the light at the end of the tunnel – and how they can contribute to it. When this is executed well, people’s inner motivation engine kicks in, and discretionary effort becomes more prevalent. 

# 4 – An Era of Not so New Ideas 

Defining people used to be as simple as saying male or female, but today there are additional non-binary and gender-neutral categories. This is one example of the cross-cultural awareness and knowledge modern leaders must possess to effectively remove biases and facilitate inclusivity.

Change management is among the most searched words on the internet. Change is happening everywhere, all the time, around the world. People change, lifestyles change, environments change, organisations change, and so on. With change being another constant of life, learning to adapt (instead of push back) to these evolutions must be part of the modern-day leader’s arsenal.

Change management from a leader’s standpoint is not just mandating behaviour change, but facilitating mindset change. The hearts and minds stuff is where true transformation happens. Rare and highly sought after. 

# 5 – Differ, Deliver, Delight 

Being able to differentiate yourself from others is a skill that can be learned like any other. We are a fatigued, sceptical and cynical audience – in and outside of organisations. Demonstrating authenticity and integrity are fundamental to achieving this differentiation. There have been too many showmen who disappeared or passed the buck when times get tough. Too many initiatives in the corporate graveyard. 

Delivering consistently upon commitments, in good times and bad, is hard enough. But learning to deliver against a backdrop of rising societal expectations with humility and warmth is the next level up and what’s needed today. For those leaders that can do this, pure delight – of your employees, customers, community and shareholders – is in reach.

The trademark of this decade is transformational leadership. With change expedited during and post COVID-19 normal, leaders who expand their repertoire in these five areas will lead beyond expectations.

What do you think should be on the radar of the post COVID-19 leader?