Turbulence ahead: new leaders are needed


“I come to you with bad news.” This is how Vishal Garg, chief executive of Better.com, an American mortgage company, opened a Zoom call earlier this month in which he bluntly told 900 employees that their employment with the company American mortgage loans were “terminated, effective.”

It’s hard to think of a worse example of leadership than Better. But Garg has done other executives a favor, shaping a management style that the past two tumultuous years have thrown in the trash of corporate case studies. The future business leaders of 2022 should take the opposite path.

Twenty years ago, Garg could have gotten away with what he later recognized to be a lack of “respect and appreciation.” The typical business leader of the turn of the 21st century was focused on making reliable products and selling reliable services. Their goal was to achieve short-term financial goals for the benefit of the owners of their businesses. Leadership was about “managing poorly performing robots,” Columbia Business School professor Rita Gunther McGrath told the recent Peter Drucker Global Management Forum. From this era of execution to the era of knowledge management, McGrath suggests that leaders have now entered the “era of empathy.”

The 2020-21 crisis has propelled compassion, communication and collaboration – once ridiculed as “soft” skills – to the top of the list of leadership traits. Business leaders also had to demonstrate a fourth C – competence – on a broader set of issues than those faced by their predecessors.

Business leaders are almost as likely to find themselves in the limelight for their views on climate change, race, human rights and raging “culture wars” as they are for their business strategy basic. They face challenges both inside and outside the organization. Over the past year, Netflix staff have resigned over supposedly transphobic comments by comedian Dave Chappelle, while employees at Washingtonian Media, a publisher, have taken issue with their executive’s view on flexible working. McKinsey employees questioned the consulting firm’s work with fossil fuel companies.

Dealing with the new pressures requires leaders with a “vulnerable style,” quite different from the “macho-style leader who is rarely right but rarely in doubt,” wrote academics Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Amy Edmondson in the Harvard Business Review. . They cited Oprah Winfrey, the presenter and media billionaire, for her authenticity, and Satya Nadella, who led a cultural transformation at Microsoft, for her humility.

There is room, just, for swashbucklers like Elon Musk. But anyone trying to emulate their success at Tesla and SpaceX should learn from their willingness to experiment, their comfort in the face of uncertainty, and their ability to instill confidence in their team by reinforcing a clear goal, rather than micromanaging it. aggressive and its self-advertising.

Finally, the leaders of 2022 will have to be in good shape for the long term. They have already stopped seeing the coronavirus as a one-off crisis. Instead, those interviewed in 2021 by Veronica Hope Hailey of the University of Bath and Scarlett Brown of the CIPD Personnel Managers Group, suggested the pandemic was the start of a long transition to a new way of doing business. doing business responsibly. “We’re now looking at this as a five- or ten-year project,” one said.

Such projects call for leaders who are able to balance the short-term financial health of the business, its long-term strategic demands and the needs of the people it serves. A good start would be to end the old approach to leadership with immediate effect.

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