You’d think that everything has already been written about leadership, and yet hardly any other area of management has changed as massively as leadership as a result of changing values, Covid-19 and digitalization.
“Good leadership is comparable to a good cleaner – it is particularly noticeable when it is missing”. And that today as then! It starts with customers, students, workshop participants etc. asking me again and again what the difference between leadership and management and leading is. Well, of course there are differences between these roles, but I won’t go into that here. Much more important at this point is to say that a manager must be able to fill all three of these roles very variably. And this depends on the situation!
The good news
An old management thinking still promotes a culture of mediocrity. “The greatest room for improvement in performance lies in the weaknesses of a person” was the result of a Gallup study/survey of about 80,000 managers in the German-speaking world a few years ago.
But there is good news: Much of what we have been able to teach and learn about leadership so far is still correct and applicable. Following Prof. F. Malik, for example, it is correct to regard leadership as a profession, a profession with certain tasks (which have to be fulfilled), tools (instruments with which to accomplish these tasks) and principles (attitudes and a value framework for crisis). Leadership can indeed be a full-time job and does not take place on the side – every employee is different and must be led individually. With a long-time experienced employee, you will have different target agreement discussions than with a young employee fresh from university, who among other things still knows little about his or her strengths.
“No, you weren‘t downloaded honey—you were born!”
Not only our working world has changed due to the complexity of business, exponential knowledge duplication or new organizational approaches like SCRUM or Holocracy. We increasingly have to lead people of the generation Y and Z, who sometimes tick so differently than, for example, we from the generation baby boomers or X. These younger generations are highly digitalized and value-oriented, they seek early on the meaning in life/the balance between performance at work and the 3 FFF (friends/festivities/family), and they feel more committed to their own I. For these people, the above approach of leadership is still necessary, but no longer sufficient.
It needs additional elements, as we know them e.g. from the positive psychology according to M. Seligmann, in which we recognize goodness and strengthen it. In terms of leadership, this means promoting positive emotions, strengthening commitment with precise tasks, allowing relationships and networks to develop, presenting the purpose of the company/department and making success possible and allowing the employees to achieve this success. This has proven to have positive effects on turnover and market share as well as on productivity, decreasing fluctuation, reduced sick leave and the innovative ability of a company.
Ok, new generations require new leadership thinking and for now it’s working. As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, a small virus has recently been crumbling our entire economic system with a big impact on leadership. A lockdown with consequences and pain for some managers and the supposedly great spectre of “home office”. Apart from legally unresolved questions, many executives were faced with the question: “How do I lead my people in the home office? The old approach “attendance => work => performance” and the associated control possibility was out of force. Trust in employees was the order of the day: trust in their independence, trust in their willingness to perform, trust in their self-organization, trust in their results orientation.
As a leader, one was almost forced to throw old beliefs overboard and allow new ones – for many a revolutionary change that often ended with positive aaha moments. Many managers told me about their change and how it clearly improved their relationship with their employees. Employees also reported that respect and esteem for colleagues has greatly improved – not least in the form of significantly increased punctuality and efficiency of online meetings.
Thanks to the virus, the way we work (together) will continue to change and lead into the form of new working time models, more home offices, more digitalization and a more professional attitude to work.
We need the best
“Leadership is not a privilege but a service” is a quote from Bodo Jansen, CEO of Upstalsboom Hotels – a manager who is very self-critical and public about his metamorphosis into a top executive.
In other words, we need to select the best in order to ensure top leadership to which employees are entitled. We need people with resilience and a positive attitude towards other people. People who follow the management principle “value creation through appreciation” with all their heart. In many cases, however, this does not happen and promotions still happen on the basis of seniority or top performance in the previous area of responsibility. This does not always make sense, because metaphorically speaking, this is perhaps how you make the best salesperson a branch manager. Often with the result that you have one less top salesman and one more bad branch manager!