Communication and problem solving: two critical leadership skills
In the last 18 months, the universal ideas about leadership have been challenged in every possible way. Confronted by a global health crisis, business leaders across the globe were expected to ride through the growing uncertainties and reinvent at an unrelenting pace; all this while grappling with remote working, a disrupted pace of business, cautious and demanding consumers, as well as a rapidly shifting political and economic climate.
One of our biggest learnings from these trying times has been the importance of being nimble. Organizations led by agile and authentic leaders have come out stronger in the post-pandemic world, adapting swiftly to the evolving surroundings. Take for example the formerly controversial topic of remote-working. Not so long ago organizations were reluctant to implement Work-from-Home (WFH) because of some foreseeable and some presumed challenges associated with it. However, with the onset of the pandemic, companies literally made the move to 100% remote-working overnight. Agility and adaptability have been key in making these radical shifts possible, redefining the leadership traits of the future.
Leaders who successfully navigated the pandemic did not have any handy guidebook, no prior experience, no case study to draw ideas from. However, what they did possess was the right skills – of problem-solving/critical thinking and communicating effectively. Before you jump to any conclusion and judge these traits to be fairly obvious, let us clarify that we need to look at these traits through the lens of agility.
Fuelled by technology, the pandemic, and a new generation of employees, the way we communicate has evolved. Conversations, both formal and informal, are virtual and consequently, distant. While we are all always connected through some messaging or social media platform, personal connections are slowly diminishing.
With this in mind, leaders must develop the ability to communicate across platforms and to a diverse range of people, seamlessly. In today’s dynamic work environment, where companies may have implemented hybrid-working models, leaders have the added responsibility to encourage inter-team connections and building a culture where everyone feels involved and included, irrespective of whether they are coming to the office or working remotely.
Leaders also need to encourage self-expression in employees and facilitate a
passage for safe dialogue. This is more important now than ever as the avenues to share grievances, challenges, or issues have reduced with remote working.
Effective leaders are ones who listen, empathize, and inspire. None of these things are possible without strong communication skills. To aid their effective communication, leaders must practice proactive transparency. Given the amount of uncertainty that individuals and businesses have struggled with in the recent past, it is absolutely necessary that leaders are proactively transparent while sharing information with their teams.
As with all communication, how we share information matters. Regardless of the message, leaders must thoughtfully and authentically craft their communication and always leave room for feedback or questions. This, in our opinion, is also a mandatory step toward building trust.
Problem-solving and critical thinking
Thrown into the middle of a difficult situation, it is natural for most people to lose sight of the way out. They look to their leaders for support and guidance. Contrary to popular belief, successful leaders do not instantly come up with solutions to every problem. Instead, they bring to the table the uncanny ability to redefine the problem, logically structure it, and solve it from a long-term perspective, keeping in mind their employees as well as customers. For instance, instead of wondering how to move to WFH, addressing the problem of ensuring the safety of employees and clients.
This approach helps leaders tackle the root cause and deliver sustainable impact to both key stakeholders – employees and clients. It is important to remember that today, problem-solving translates to thinking outside the box. This demands creativity from leaders, who in turn must inspire the same in their teams.
As a leader, it is not enough to possess these skills; it is equally important to pass them on.
Before we wrap up
Challenges and changes are constant, but not permanent. Overcoming any difficult situation should never be a one-person job. Everyone, especially leaders who are often expected to show up as superheroes without capes, must remember this. Going forward, leaders need to normalize asking for help and guidance from peers to ensure they are headed in the right direction.