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Leading During a Crisis Requires Skills That Also Serve Best in Non-Crisis Times

Winston Churchill once said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it has laid bare a harsh reality for many organizations: problems at the top. But it is also providing an opportunity for companies to rethink who their leadership is, what values they represent, and how people are hired, work, developed, and retained. 

Speaking at the ManpowerGroup Talent Solutions Transform Talent event, ManpowerGroup Chief Innovation Officer Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, who has been studying leadership trends and people in leadership for more than 20 years, says from a research perspective the pandemic has been a fascinating leadership experiment to watch unfold.  

“Never in modern history have we had the possibility to observe a leadership test of such proportions where pretty much every leader in the world is confronted with the same problem at the same time,” Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic says. “We have a sea of ubiquitous, real-time data available and accessible by everyone that enables us to evaluate how leaders are performing.” 

During his keynote address, Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic tackled four trends organizations cannot ignore: 

  • Leadership in crisis
  • Unstoppable rise of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) 
  • Humanizing work in the age of artificial intelligence 
  • Working in a hybrid world  

Leadership in Crisis
As we study the pandemic in real-time, Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic notes it has exposed leadership deficiencies within many organizations. While incompetent and unqualified leaders can ride the wave of prosperity, when you have a crisis of this magnitude there's nowhere to hide. So what leadership skills are best for navigating a crisis? Spoiler alert: the same as in non-crisis times.  

Attributes like intelligence, the ability to make rational and data-driven decisions, curiosity, the ability to learn from new and unprecedented opportunities, humility, understanding your limitations, knowing what you don't know and seeking help or support from others, empathy, the ability to connect with others when they're struggling, resilience, the ability to stay calm and be a beacon of calmness for other people, and finally, integrity.” 

Though the pandemic has created an opportunity to course correct on leadership, it never should’ve gotten to this point. 

“We shouldn't have needed the global pandemic to conclude that people, groups, organizations and societies are generally better off when the leaders are smart, kind and honest. But unfortunately, we did need a pandemic to remind ourselves that that is the case.” 

Unstoppable rise of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) 
Even before the pandemic, efforts had increased to make workplaces more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and welcoming where all felt they belonged. COVID and other external societal pressures are forcing all companies to be more flexible and accelerate efforts to ramp up or improve their DEIB measures. But Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic warns this creates new challenges since traditionally it's been easier to hire people who are all the same. 

Organizations that are now talking about diversity and inclusion still say they're hiring for cultural fit. And the two are kind of incompatible. You can't hire just for culture fit or focus your hiring efforts on bringing people who fit in and look like everyone else and simultaneously champion diversity and inclusion,” Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic says. “There is still a big learning curve ahead. But we know being data-driven can actually help organizations build teams by bringing in people who are complementary to the team and organization.” 

That change should start with leadership roles and doing so will help an organization's efforts to evolve the culture from the top on down. 

“If you want to help the culture diversify and make the culture more inclusive, hiring inclusive leaders is a good approach. Bringing in leaders who are different and enabling them to articulate and bring something new to the dynamic of the leadership teams will do more to advance the DEIB agenda than other initiatives.” 

Humanizing Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
You don't need to be an expert in technology to understand that over the past year and a half, people have been pushed to rely on technology more than ever. Before the pandemic, the main concern was that jobs, careers, and tasks would be automated and performed by AI. But Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic finds that from the early stages of the pandemic, we have instead automated ourselves. 

“We have been squeezed out of a lot of creativity, improvisation, and our ability to live and work in innovative ways,” Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic says. “Of course, we had to do this to preserve and maintain our health and well-being, but in doing so, we're also helping the algorithms get better.”  

The challenge for leaders now is to humanize the workplace again. 

“When we return to some level of normalcy or as the hybrid world becomes more normal and commonplace than just working remotely, we have to find ways to enable people to connect with others,  build meaningful relationships, and deliver or perform in a creative way.” 

Working in a Hybrid World  
Increasingly the focus of work is becoming more about how it’s done as opposed to where. Although the hybrid model holds great promise, Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic cautions it could open the door for unfairness or inequity. 

“To make hybrid work work requires a very rigorous, data-driven approach that actually evaluates how people are performing, how they feel about the work, and takes into account individual circumstances ,” says Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic. “When offices first reopened, men were more likely to go back than women. And we have also seen throughout the pandemic that women, have been much more likely to take on a lot of unpaid, extra work at home.” 

Despite the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, organizations can use this time as an opportunity to take a hard look at not only how their leaders are performing, but also how they are treating their people. Leaders who are curious, humble, ethical, and empathetic already have attributes that are best suited to be good leaders, in times of crisis and non-crisis alike.  

Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic’s keynote from the ManpowerGroup Talent Solutions Transform Talent event is available now, on-demand.