Leadership reimagined in the COVID age

Colin Mercer | 3 May 2020

How is the pandemic changing the qualities required of board members?
Businesses often have a ‘shopping list’ of qualities they think future board members will need in order to deal with the changing challenges to come. Smart businesses will already have set the wheels in motion to identify individuals with those qualities and both groom them from within the organisation and recruit them externally.

But even the smartest businesses did not see COVID-19 coming. The pandemic and resulting economic crash have meant that the indistinct future has unexpectedly become the present. Those qualities businesses suspected could be needed one day are now needed immediately.

Does the board have the right blend of talents for the new challenges ahead?
In this blog, Colin Mercer, Director at New Street Consulting Group highlights the five key qualities most in demand from businesses in the post-COVID era. It’s hard to find all of these qualities in a single individual – for example, purpose-driven, courageous leaders are prone to getting emotionally committed to projects and may not always be open to last minute ideas.

It’s far more achievable to ensure that the full range of qualities required is present in different individuals on your board – and in the right places. A board assessment from New Street Consulting Group can play a key role in identifying the individuals with the right qualities and areas where new talent may be required to deal with shortfalls.

Five key qualities of board members in the post-COVID world

  • Insight
    The ability to interpret incomplete and opaque information as part of decision-making is now more vital than ever. Many businesses have little certainty over what the economic recovery will look like in their markets and how quickly it will arrive. A leader who can successfully interpret the limited data available to make better decisions is extremely valuable during uncertain times. That skill can help position a business more effectively to grow through the recovery.
  • Courage
    The ability to transform insight and decision-making into concrete action is also vital. Courageous leaders shouldn’t be confused with foolhardy or desperate leaders, however. A courageous leader can convert the sceptical to their decisions and bring them along despite the perceived risks of their decisions. A foolhardy leader will not be able to do that – the organisation will not ‘pull in the same direction’ if too many senior individuals do not buy into the leader’s decisions.
  • Emotional resilience
    In difficult times, leaders must be able to manage their own fears – not only to prevent it clouding their judgement but also to help the rest of the organisation remain confident. A team will be able to tell quickly if a leader is panicking or has ‘gone into their shell’ and is not listening to advice or interpreting information effectively. This lack of confidence can easily spread through the organisation like rot.
  • Relationship-building
    Leaders can only bring teams along with them in perceived ‘risky’ decisions if the team trusts them. Trust is in many cases is closely tied to personal relationships – a team is less likely to trust a leader they view as cold or aloof. Personal warmth can seem like a ‘nice to have’ quality rather than a vital one but leaders without it often struggle with personal authority in an organisation and can instead lean on the less-effective fear as a tool for control. In stressful times, this makes it more difficult to keep everyone working together.
  • Openness to new ideas
    While insight is the ability to interpret incomplete data in decision-making, openness to new ideas means being able to do that repeatedly and with little notice. If better information appears, the best choice for the organisation may quickly change. A post-COVID leader may need to ‘pivot’ immediately – change strategy, change pricing or change the mix of products and services offered. Emotional resilience is strongly linked to this quality. Leaders who pivot quickly can be criticised for ‘flip-flopping’ but those with emotional resilience can brush this off and make the best decision regardless.

We help some of the UK’s biggest businesses to ensure that their board members have the right mix of qualities to lead their organisations through the unexpected.

Colin Mercer is a board director and leads the talent strategy consulting team. To discuss your organisation’s leadership acquisition and development needs please, get in touch.

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