4 Traits Every Next-Generation Leader Needs to Possess

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Most business leaders had never previously experienced anything close to the disruption the pandemic has inflicted on both our lives and our work. It has posed brand new challenges for companies, turning the workplace upside down and inside out. Employees, too, have had to deal with job insecurity, health concerns, and heightened anxiety in various aspects of their lives. The very concept of “business as usual” is gone.

Leading in a crisis — especially one that’s uncharted territory — calls for a new approach. Employees are looking to their leaders to guide them through the uncertainty and volatility of the moment. They want someone with a vision, someone who can communicate with clarity. They need leaders who are empathetic to the challenges they’ve faced and the ones yet to come, leaders who can lead their teams forward with direction and resilience.

The next generation of leaders must possess a certain set of soft and hard skills to rise to the moment. If they don’t have those skills already, they must begin to build them now.

Leaders will need to possess four key traits in particular as they navigate the post-pandemic, people-centric business world of the future.

1. Transparency

Trust is the keystone of collaboration, and it goes in all directions. Companies have to trust their employees are doing their work, employees have to trust their companies are giving them the tools to do their work, and employees need to trust their teammates. Transparency builds trust, and it’s a skill that team leaders will need to rely on heavily moving forward.

One way that leaders can embody transparency is to maintain a steady flow of information to their teams. It’s best to deliver that information smoothly. Don’t hit people with big surprises or sudden changes of plans. They’ll respond by putting up their guards and wondering what else they don’t know about.

It’s also important to collect team feedback via surveys — and then act on the feedback. If employees don’t feel you’re listening, they won’t be motivated to share their concerns or ideas with you.

Finally, autonomy can contribute greatly to corporate transparency. One easy way to grant employees autonomy is to stop tracking their time and start measuring their work based on output.

2. Hybrid Team Leadership

Things aren’t just going to snap back to the way they were at the end of the pandemic. We’re going to see a dramatically new workplace landscape comprising hybrid, remote, and in-office work in nearly equal measure. While some people have struggled with isolation and are itching to return to a social work environment, others may have anxiety about it. Still others may have found they’re more productive as telecommuters and want to be permanently stationed at home.

Managing partially remote teams calls for an entirely new leadership style. Leaders will need to get creative to bring team members scattered across various locations and time zones together in a cohesive way. Something as benign as scheduling will acquire a new level of importance. Managers will need to work with their teams to decide how frequently to have meetings and how they’ll be conducted — and they may need to do some scheduling karate so everyone can attend. This all has to happen while we’re safeguarding the flexibility employees have become accustomed to.

Leaders will also need to reimagine their companies’ workspaces for their new hybrid teams, perhaps by switching out large conference rooms in favor of small areas where people can sign up for desk space once a week. You might even consider allowing employees to check out furniture and equipment for use in their home office.

3. Empathy

Empathy is going to be an important trait as employees return to work. People will have their own levels of concern and their own physical and emotional boundaries that must be respected. Leaders will need to respond by injecting a heavy dose of empathy into workplace policies and processes, perhaps by offering flexibility to work from home or the option to take mental health days.

Beyond that, leaders must offer their genuine understanding, particularly to those who were deeply affected by the pandemic. That might mean showing sympathy, offering kind words, or even lending a hand more directly. Managers should ensure they’re regularly checking in with each team member and staying attuned to their changing emotional needs.

Some managers will quickly admit they don’t naturally have a high degree of empathy. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to bring in a third party to support employee well-being.

4. Democratic Decision-Making

Just as business leaders seek feedback from clients while in beta with a new product, they should seek feedback from employees on how to best organize and operate their workplaces in the new normal.

Work to establish common guidelines around basic business functions. For example, how do employees want to use communication channels such as email and Slack? When should employees set aside blocks of focus time? How often should meetings be held, how long should they run, and should they be in-person or virtual?

Collecting input on a regular basis will also serve a dual purpose of allowing you to keep tabs on how employees are faring emotionally and otherwise, so they don’t feel out of sight and out of mind.

Hari Kolam is cofounder and CEO of Findem.

By Hari Kolam