To succeed in today’s world, leaders need to be flexible and empathetic, says Zac de Silva, who also sees leadership evolving to offer a more personalised approach to managing each individual within a team.
Asked what type of leader companies need to succeed in today’s always-on world, Zac de Silva, the founder of Business Changing and owner of Nurture Change, says leaders need to be flexible and empathetic.
“Most employees think about their job and duties after hours far more than they used to – some may be checking emails right up until they hit bed.
“That means leaders today really need to show a decent amount of flexibility in how they allow their teams and individuals to get the job done.
“Someone may need to leave work early to do school pick-up, but they have the means to complete their work after hours remotely, when it suits them. For most of us, it’s not salary or job titles that give us career satisfaction – it’s other less tangible things, like being appreciated, being treated with respect and having some leniency around working hours. Good leaders recognise this.
“In saying that, modern leaders also need to know when to give formal approval to say that staff are allowed to truly switch off after hours – and to encourage it.
“I find many people today are always ‘on’ and feel guilty if they don’t respond to after-hours communications, but this relentlessness can often affect people’s well-being and sometimes lead to burnout.
“The best thing a leader can do is to let their team know that they do not need to reply to any emails after hours and if there is anything super urgent, they will receive a text message or phone call. It’s one thing to be able to work all hours of the day, and another thing to actually do it – leaders need to encourage their team to use their downtime wisely, doing whatever they love to refuel them for their next day/week of work.
“Empathetic leadership will go a long way to getting more productivity and engagement out of your team during a normal working day.”
Are the skills and thinking around what makes a good leader different from what it might have been 10 years ago?
Ten years ago, authoritative leaders might have been more acceptable than they are today – the do-it-my-way-or-the-highway-style leaders. Today, people generally don’t respond well to that kind of leadership, and as a result those leaders will really battle to get a motivated and productive workforce.
In my experience as a profit and growth specialist, I’ve seen a huge uplift in leaders and companies focusing on becoming a great workplace, perhaps driven by the shortage of quality candidates for job vacancies.
The “employer of choice” tag can really set a company apart and help it to be more successful. Of course, to become a great workplace you have to become a great leader, which takes some work and self-development.
I have definitely seen a rise in leaders being willing and open to do some work on their leadership abilities and being more aware of how they are performing as leaders than 10 years ago.
I have many CEOs and directors and general managers who work with me regularly for mentorship and coaching around improving their leadership skills, which is fantastic – I really applaud those leaders who can be humble enough to self-reflect and do something about those areas they recognise as lacking, to help them and their teams get to the next level.
Today, HR is more developed across the board in companies of all sizes, and workers expect companies to have the basics of HR systems alive and well in their workplace.
Today, the art of HR is an essential, not a nice-to-have, and HR managers often have the ear of senior leaders. This is another sign that leaders today seem to be more aware that the accepted people practices need to be in place in order to recruit and retain the right people.
Compared to a decade ago, leaders need to have more skills around empathy and EQ, around communication, around storytelling to bring a team along for the ride. These skills are in addition to the usual baseline of strategic and big-picture thinking, commercial nous and financial literacy.
Where do you see this evolution of leadership heading in the future?
Customers are wanting more and more personalisation and I think that leadership will evolve more this way, too – there will be demand for very personalised approaches to managing each individual within a team.
What works for one person will not work for another. Really good employees expect more from their leaders and workplaces and leaders will recognise and respond to that.
I see them taking more time to really think about what is going to get the best out of each specific person in their team as an individual and then execute that.
Imagine the impact on your company if each person was managed in a truly personalised approach that brought the best out of them. Managing the wellness of employees comes into play here also. It seems that leaders today – and even more so in the future – need to be cognisant of extra pressures that might be impacting a team member’s ability to do the job and to be aware of what is causing them stress beyond their job.
I see leaders of the future needing to be even more aware of the mental health and wellness of their people – and to take responsibility for easing that. In recent years I’ve noted a lot of my customers implementing wellness programmes as small as fresh fruit in-house each week to four-day working weeks and company-funded bootcamps.
I predict that by 2025 every company will be providing their employees with wellness benefits, which will be seen as more important than financial benefits.
While everything around us appears to be changing, is the essence of a good leader still someone who is at heart a good person, with the greater good top of mind?
In reality, the best leaders through the ages have had some similar traits: they have all had a greater goal in mind that they’ve communicated in a compelling way so that their team have bought into it and willingly done their individual part to help make it happen.
These successful leaders have treated their team members respectfully and with a personal touch. They have led by example.
The best leaders (from an employee perspective) have not been dictators. They have been open to diverse thinking and know that the power of team thinking is so much more powerful than just their own thoughts.
Personally, I cannot see the great leaders of the future being vastly different to what makes a good leader today and in the past – people will still get behind someone they respect and trust, who will take them on a journey to achieve a goal they believe in and want to be a part of.