In times of change, whether triggered internally (i.e. organisational reshuffle) or externally (i.e. pandemic), employees can find themselves beneath a cloud of uncertainty. This leads to confusion and worry as employees become anxious about, among other factors, job security, which can cause a trickle-down impact on financial stability.
Organisational leaders face the enormous challenge of leading the company and its people through the uncertainty. This is underpinned by leadership qualities that allow them to succeed. Nick Chia, Singapore country manager at executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates, makes a pertinent point on leadership qualities based on his two-decade experience searching and developing succession plans for CEOs across various sectors in the region. While leaders are effective in normal circumstances, they may not have the wit to deal with unprecedented crises. This begs a question: Do leaders of today have qualities of an all-rounder?
What are the important leadership qualities?
Leadership qualities are largely constant — success lies in being able to apply them accordingly in various situations. Often, this can entail a shift in leadership styles or an enhancement, which indicates that leadership is fluid and dynamic. Here are some important leadership qualities in times of change, with overlaps that are telling.
When a given situation calls for change, effective leaders take the initiative to address a case for the change. This requires them to think on their feet and take charge of a direction. This stems from the ability to practice foresight and assess a future following an unprecedented event: where the company stands presently and what can happen in the future.
2. Strategic thinking
When Comfort Delgro launched its food delivery service in April 2020, it took into consideration the decline in taxi driver’s income due to strict circuit breaker measures. It saw an opportunity in online delivery during the period and channelled manpower resources to help food and beverage establishments meet their delivery needs with its fleet of 10,000 cabs.
Comfort Delgo’s case indicates that leaders must exhibit quick and strategic thinking. When making a case for change, leaders will need to analyse the business context within the situation and what needs to be done as part of the change. Strategic thinkers are also required to make good judgements and take calculated risks, pairing well their foresight capabilities. This involves envisioning the desired outcome for the company and rallying its people towards a common goal.
3. Effective communication
On that note, foresight and strategic thinking are only successful when its people are involved. Employees must be provided with a clear message of the company’s plans and the implications if any. Among the many leadership qualities, employees appreciate leaders who are clear in their direction and can guide them through the change together. Even if there is bad news, they will want to hear it from the leaders themselves. Take Mothercare Singapore’s leadership as an example. Managing director Pang Fu Wei addressed employees in a virtual town hall on the company’s manpower planning strategies amid the COVID-19 pandemic. These involved announcing management and mid-management pay cuts and the guiding principles behind them – the cuts were implemented to continue business operations without reducing headcount.
In tandem with effective communication is commitment. Once a leader delivers a message, the people expect the company to stick to it. When there are frequent but uncommunicated changes, employees may feel disillusioned and less willing to trust the leadership. Therefore, ensuring commitment not just to employee wellbeing but to the message communicated is critical to a company’s stability during change.
Since employees are at the heart of the company, any large organisational change will impact them the most. Leaders should, therefore, listen carefully to their concerns before implementing measures. Mothercare’s virtual townhall, for instance, allowed employees to raise questions and concerns on bread-and-butter issues like salaries and job security. They were also pleased to hear about a $50,000 ‘tough times fund’ for those who needed more help during the period, another facet of empathy that requires leaders to understand employees’ present situations and help them adapt.
6. Willingness to learn
Leaders must also be brave to admit that they may not know the answers. They should be willing to learn and even alter their leadership styles to suit the needs of the company and people. The willingness to learn is also key to inculcating empathy – a successful leader is one who is keen to hear suggestions from its people since measures that will be implemented, as shared earlier, will directly affect them.