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Three Essential Competencies Every Leader Must Now Demonstrate

by Michael O'Leary

If Rob Kaiser ever picks a stock or backs a horse, go all in. Kaiser is President of Kaiser Leadership Solutions and an author on Leadership. In an article published in HBR just prior to the 2020 pandemic, he describes VERSATILITY as the essential leadership competency. Timing. In his article Kaiser identified the big challenges facing leadership at that point, as being, do more with less, cut costs but innovate, think global but act local, a growing series of paradoxical demands. At the same time, he sees the excruciating pace of disruptive change as speeding up these demands, further increasing pressure on organisations and their leaders to adapt, to be versatile. And then the pandemic arrived.

Kaiser describes versatility as the capacity to read and respond to change with a wide range of skills and behaviours as needed. His practical grid model looks at “How you lead” (Forceful or Enabling) and What you Lead (Strategic or Operational) and identifies simply, the “Behaviours” and the “Skills or Attributes” necessary to be effective in each situation. Leaders are generally more likely to apply those elements they see as strengths, even when the alternative is more effective, leading their strengths to effectively become weaknesses. Truly versatile leaders develop the ability to consider opposing needs and avoid maximising one at the expense of another simply because their strengths lie in that direction. In battling through and beyond the Covid 19 era, versatility becomes an essential competency.

The ability of a leader to bring others with them has always been a prerequisite. This challenge takes on a whole new level of importance during and after times of global crisis. Employees are anxious, a significant change has been forced upon them, they watch as colleagues lose their jobs. Many have faced horrific personal tragedy. Communicating clearly, creating engagement, winning hearts and minds for a new vision, while aligning and binding efforts towards it becomes even more important and harder to get right.

Daniel Goleman is the bestselling author of many books on Emotional Intelligence and Leadership and is Co-Director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University. Goleman identifies SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE as “the make or break skill set”, given leaders must accomplish their objectives through other people. He defines this as listening, communicating, persuading and collaborating and suggests a continuing shift occurs from the importance of technical expertise to the ability to influence, the more senior a leader becomes. Goleman shares that while a leader must have a wide range of abilities, social intelligence is actually “the ‘secret sauce’ in top performance leadership”.

In ‘Transforming Beyond the Crisis with Head, Heart and Hands’, four senior leaders with Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Jim Hemerling, Deborah Lovich, Ashley Grice and Robert Warner describe the accelerative impact on organisation transformation. They highlight the warp speed assimilation to digital technology which is revolutionising workplaces (even what constitutes as a workplace these days) and the consequential deep impact on almost every aspect of employee’s lives borne from the pandemic. Head, Heart and Hands is not a pithy slogan at BCG, it is an area of foundational research that identifies the need for successful transformation to not only have a great strategy and a smart execution plan but also a “deep recognition of the human element”.

Organisational priorities must be embedded with a deep sense of HUMANITY to drive real transformation and real competitive advantage. The authors set out a detailed set of conditions under the headings of Head, Heart and Hands that enable Leaders to engender Humanity throughout their firms. The Head, which centres around envisioning the future and identifying the highest value priorities, means focussing organisation agendas around a capable and energised workforce. It also means figuring out what the future of work and workplaces means for a business, factors that affect all stakeholders to the business. The Heart refers to the care for, inspiration of and connection with employees and communities, crafting an empowering culture where people can be the best version of themselves. In BCG’s model, The Hands reflect the need to “shape the new reality of work” by reinventing works of working (Covid has forced much of this already), focusing on outcomes rather than inputs and developing new and creative methods of talent management. The authors summarise their “Transforming with Humanity Using Head, Heart and Hands, as follows: i) Infuse our priorities with humanity; ii) Build on strengths forged in a crisis and iii) Shape the new reality of work. 

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