Learning To Lead In The New World Of Work

Managing a flexible workplace

The new world of work offers workers flexible hours, flexible spaces and often a flexible pace, all while flexing their potential, doing what they’re good at. But what does it offer the people who lead in this new age of flexibility? A challenge, that’s what.

In an era when workers want stability even as they demand flexibility, support yet empowerment, and independence while they work collaboratively, leaders and their management styles have to change, just as workers and places have changed. It’s time for less doing and more thinking. It’s time for leaders to liberate their minds just as teams have been liberated from the office. It’s time for more conscious leadership.

An evolution to conscious leadership is one of the greatest challenges faced by modern management. Why? Because it requires leading from the heart and then the head.

Conscious leadership starts with awareness; awareness of the dynamics that effect outcomes. Leadership of this nature requires recognition of one’s own ego in decision making, whilst being conscious of external factors.

I’m not talking about scrapping the systems and processes that ensure the business continues to flourish. I’m not suggesting that everything learned on an outstanding MBA should be forgotten. I’m certainly not saying that leaders of the past cannot charge forward and lead their organisations – and people – into the future. I’m simply saying that leadership is an incredibly challenging job that requires a multitude of skills, and with a rapidly changing workforce, leadership challenges are evolving too, requiring new ways to connect with and inspire and motivate people, recognising the interplay and interdependence of an array of stakeholders.

Of course, staying focused on profitability is paramount but how leaders motivate their teams over the line is different. Fifty years ago the boss would say jump and everyone chorused, how high. That doesn’t work anymore. Today the boss must have a real, authentic relationship with the people that surround them; customers, employees, suppliers, an extended community including the environment. Leaders need to be very clear on what they stand for, and profitability isn’t good enough anymore. Teams want their leaders to provide them with meaning, strength, compassion, short- and long-term goals and innovative thinking. In a nutshell, they want psychological safety.

A two-year study at Google, covering 180+ teams showed that their highest performing teams felt psychologically safe – they could take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed which ultimately resulted in enhanced productivity.

This kind of safety comes with a trust in leadership which brings me back to my original point; leaders need to change the way they lead to engender a new kind of trust among a new kind of workforce. Leaders need to act with integrity, not simply preach.

There is no one formula for conscious leadership but I can offer 5 basic principles that you can start practising immediately.

Really listen to your people, and by really listen I mean ask for feedback and input and then act on it. The result of giving people a say in how things are done can be surprisingly rewarding.

Cultivate trust.  Integrity is defined as always doing what you say you’re going to do, so then trust your people to deliver even if you can’t see them sitting at their desks for eight hours a day.  It helps to stay in touch with everyone on your team.  

Practice responsible kindness. Offer support in a way that does not demean, or create an obligation of return, and be certain not to create dependencies. Rather empower than simply give.

Pay attention to the culture of your company. Identify the real and tangible values and beliefs you have and determine rituals to support and entrench them; from employment policies to recognition systems.  People follow winners, so be positive, seeing the opportunity in every situation.

Provide stability. As much as modern workers want to be able to do their own thing in their own time, they need to know that the foundation is solid, irrespective of the financial, social and political challenges

Give it a go: you won’t be disappointed, and neither will your team.

By Marc Lubner, Co-founder SiSebenza

Marc Lubner is the co-founder of SiSebenza and founder of Afrika Tikkun and The Smile Foundation. He was the first recipient of the Conscious Companies Awards in 2017.

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