Even before COVID-19 necessitated teleworking, younger workers were eager to work remotely or use co-working spaces. That challenge pales in comparison to the last few months. It’s clear those in leadership positions are going need to govern in new and creative ways. But do the fundamental skills of leadership really change? Here, how to lead in this new era.
Connect asked Alex Michaels, president and CEO of Discover Lehigh Valley, Deborah Sexton, retired CEO and president of the PCMA and now a consultant, and Linda McNairy, global vice president at American Express Meetings & Events just what makes a good leader and whether the skill sets of being a leader has altered.
What makes a good leader today?
Alex Michaels: I truly believe a leader is compassionate and puts his employees first. I grew up in the Disney system. I really believe giving employees the tools to be empowered and come to me for guidance. Give them the tools to succeed. I want my team to believe they are important inside and outside of work and that the organization wants them to grow. I really want my team to trust that I’m making decisions that are good for them.
Deborah Sexton: It’s really a number of things. People are working so very hard, connected all the time 24/7, both personally and professionally. A leader needs to understand down time. As long as employees get their work done, they need that down time. And a leader needs to acknowledge that extra work. Set the guidelines. Support the individuals. Give them enough authority so they can make decisions.
Linda McNairy: Leaders need to lead with a purpose. When you are able to set that purpose with your team you are able to get everyone rowing in the right direction. People want to be led by leaders who are real human beings. What I’ve done as a leader is to let others prove themselves, too.
What are some key skills you think a top leader needs today?
Michaels: One of the key skills of a leader is to have the ability to communicate the mission and what the organization is striving to achieve. We get caught up in media wins or what we’re doing. Sometimes we need to prove why tourism is important and how we drive economic development to community leaders. A leader has to have the most enthusiasm about the organization and be a positive influence on the community and team.
Sexton: Leaders need to be clear communicators but communicate in a number of different ways. Face-to-face is one way. I’d see someone copying me on an email and they were four offices away. Be clear, too, about what they are asking of their team.
McNairy: The ability to inspire other professionals to do work and set the vision of what we are doing. Some things may not be pleasant but we need inspire people to the end game. Leaders need to be inclusive and understand what everyone brings to the table. It’s easy to navigate or migrate to people in your skill set, but when you have a broad variety of skill sets, when you hear what they bring to the table, you have different ways of looking at things that will make the team better.
Given the rise in teleworking, does that require a different skill set in leadership?
Michaels: In this day and age, it’s important to trust your employees to work remotely. We’re able to work from wherever we are. That gives you flexibility. There are quality of life aspects to remote working and the team enjoys flexibility. That also gives a leader more flexibility to hire and retain employees.
Sexton: There are people who are great at telecommuting and those that aren’t. There are positions that need to be present. You don’t telecommute with finance, necessarily. That needs to be secure and can’t be managed that way. And for those who can’t telecommute, how do they feel at those who do? Sales, for example, doesn’t need to be in the office.
McNairy: In a virtual environment, we can’t go grab a cup of coffee and have personal dialog. As you interact with your teams, think about that water cooler talk. Keep casual dialog open and be aware of interpersonal dynamics. We also have to set guidelines for each other’s space. Maybe that means not wanting to talk in the evenings.
Connect: Final thoughts?
Michaels: It’s so important for leaders to try to eliminate barriers for their team. Put them on the forefront and give them the tools to be successful. We need to encourage our teams to try to be better and take a chance. And you’re going to lose people, but you want them to advance.
Sexton: Be passionate about the organization and have a sense of humor. You have to have some fun throughout and celebrate the accomplishments.
McNairy: You learn the greatest from leaders who are not effective. I’m a huge believer in gratitude: the people, the customers and the challenge itself.