It’s time to reset your views on leadership

July 15, 2020
It’s time to reset your views on leadership

According to analyst Josh Bersin, we are heading towards a ‘big reset’. This means a lot of things, but the part I want to focus on today, is the part about leadership. Because if Bersin is correct, then as we emerge from lockdown, many things we thought we knew about leadership are going to seriously change.

What is ‘The Big Reset’?

‘The Big Reset’ is a term coined by well-known HR analyst Josh Bersin. He uses it to describe the various elements of business and HR he believes will see huge change once the global workforce begins to shake off the effects of a very intense lockdown

Bersin believes there are five big areas where the reset button will be hit:

  1. The way we work
  2. The way we budget
  3. The way we lead
  4. The people we trust
  5. The role of HR

And this isn’t just a lucky guess. Bersin has used a research group of 150 companies to gather supporting data for his theory. 

The next wave of leadership

The point I want to focus on is point three – the way we lead.

Leadership is a huge, complicated topic with many dimensions. But Bersin says that despite this, leadership styles do tend to move in philosophical waves. And he believes that we are in the dying days of the top-down hierarchy

“We are entering a wave of leadership which I believe is centred on empathy” he says. “Leaders have to feel what their employees feel. Particularly now, when anyone in your company could get sick. And that sense of empathy and compassion manifests itself in many ways.”

Bersin also says that this empathy should extend beyond the employer-employee relationship – you need it to reach your customers, your shareholders, your wider community and the environment around you.

“This is not a time to focus purely on financial growth” he adds. “This is a new opportunity to re-think leadership, and the concepts of growth mindset, curiosity, and empowerment of people.”

Why HR should care

A lot of people have lost jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But in a recent conversation, Josh Bersin told me that for those with jobs left, engagement levels are the highest they have ever been. So if your workforce is hyper-engaged, then why should you care about trying to re-think your leadership strategy?

Well, I believe that as the wider impact of this crisis starts to hit home over the short and mid-term future, HR may find that leading with empathy is even more important than ever. Especially as this hyper-engagement potentially begins to wane. 

Linda Ho, Vice President of Culture and Capability at Autodesk, echoes the sentiments of Josh Bersin, and says that their own studies have shown a similar result – huge levels of engagement. But she also added that they are keeping a very close eye on the effects of isolation and burnout, as the crisis stretches from weeks, into months, and eventually into years.

“I think when people walked into the pandemic, they thought it would be a several month exercise” she tells me. “Very few people knew we would still be managing the pandemic entering July, probably through to the end of the year, and maybe into next year.”

The growing focus on empathy and wellbeing

Autodesk is one of the companies I have seen taking an empathetic approach to the crisis as far as leadership is concerned. And they started by doubling down on their investment into resilience.

“We have provided resources around internal wellbeing and social connection” says Ho, “because isolation is a very important factor. We have also given two paid company holidays in June, and one in July, to help people find that balance between distance learning with their children, and the increase of work-life alignment.”

Paid holidays and increased social events can certainly show empathy in the short-term. However, you also need your leaders to be leading by example. 

For example, Ho adds that at Autodesk, their leaders are trying to show that it’s OK to manage your pace in order to avoid burnout. After all, it’s one thing to tell employees that they should look after themselves. But if your leaders are online at 6am, and still sending emails to their teams at 2am, it can suggest that you don’t really mean what you say.

HR is starting to get the ear of senior management

I honestly believe that this sudden switch to empathetic leadership is not going to be short-term. And if you work in HR then, you’re in a unique position to help guide your company through this transition, because business leaders will be turning to you now, more than ever before.

“The HR profession is expanding” says Bersin. “It is now joined at the hip with functions like facilities, IT and finance. And HR has the opportunity to touch these adjacent areas in a very significant way.”

And if the idea of transforming your organisation feels intimidating and distant, think again.

“HR can do things much faster than they realise” adds Bersin. “It doesn’t take two years to roll out a new training programme, or a new policy – this can be done in a few days.”

If HR thinks big, then it has the power to transform attitudes and make organisational impact

Unfortunately, not all HR professionals understand the potential value they can add to the organisation. Which is why – and this is going to sound a bit cheesy – you need to get better at believing in your own ability. And not just your ability to add information to your spreadsheets or your HR software, but your ability to think big, in order to affect change across your whole organisation.

A good place to start, is to learn as much as you can about the different functions within your organisation.

“HR leaders need to expand their horizons on the workings of operational models” explains Pete Sackleh, advisor at Josh Bersin Academy, and CEO of SolutionSpark. “In doing this, they will serve more effectively as broad-scope leaders within their organisation.”

The reset button was always going to be pressed

When I have spoken to other people about Bersin’s theory of The Big Reset, some have told me “but these are changes that were happening already”.

And I think they are right. But that doesn’t mean Bersin is wrong.

Yes, the global style of leadership has been gradually shifting away from the top-down hierarchical structure for some time now. And yes, I have noticed a slow move towards a more empathy-based leadership style.

But what I believe Bersin is getting at when he talks about The Big Reset, is the fact that the sudden impact of lockdown has seriously fired us into the future, and accelerated many of these changes.

So if you’ve so far been too afraid to adapt your organisation’s leadership style, then this might be your wake up call.

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