Article: 4 ways to be an effective leader in a fast-paced environment

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4 ways to be an effective leader in a fast-paced environment

In an exclusive roundtable hosted by People Matters and CoachHub, HR leaders and practitioners shed light on how to navigate through disruption and what strategies should be embraced in an era of rapid and ongoing transformation.
4 ways to be an effective leader in a fast-paced environment

In today’s environment, organisations of all sizes and across all geographies are facing the need for transformation. Industry captains and HR practitioners are thinking about strategies on how to engage, how to empathise, and how to bring forward the best of the company.

People Matters and CoachHub brought 20-odd leaders together for an exclusive discussion on the skills that drive this transformation, and how to impart the critical capabilities to leaders - who have the greatest influence over the direction an organisation’s strategy and culture takes, but who often are not fully equipped for that weighty responsibility.

Here, we gather four takeaways from the discussion.

1. Redefine the role of leadership

“It is no longer just about people at the top. The right approach to address a problem involves making sure that we have the right leadership at every level,” said Bhawna Gandhi, HR Director, Sodexo, who kicked off the roundtable discussion in a fireside chat. “We are not looking for leadership as a position: instead every single employee at different levels, in different career stages, are actually leaders. So when we talk about transformation, the load is not on the leaders. It is on everyone.”

The subsequent discussion backed this up, with roundtable participants describing how in a post-Covid world, it became increasingly important to continuously develop leaders.

Some of the most relevant and effective leadership behaviours highlighted include leading with empathy, managing emotions, dealing with change, and having a strong grasp of processes. There are also less obviously quantifiable aspects of leadership, such as transparency, humility, the willingness to admit that one does not know or has gotten something wrong, or even simply the ability to make decisions and keep the momentum of the business or team going even in the absence of full certainty.

2. Develop power skills

Five or 10 years ago, organisations seldom touched on the question of coaching, and even then, it was considered to be a perk only for leaders. But the pandemic brought it to the forefront. A number of roundtable participants observed that during the pandemic, mid-level and front-line leaders and managers found the situation far more challenging to cope with than their counterparts in the upper echelons, and they began to actively ask for coaching, simply to get themselves and their teams through the crisis.

Once the pandemic died down, that trend did not go away but deepened still further. In fact, participants mentioned several times that the demand - and the need - for coaching extended not just to leaders and managers, but to employees across the entire business.

As an example of how that need can be met, Bhawna shared that at Sodexo, coaching and learning has been democratised in order to build leadership across all levels, and in fact the company is building its own internal coaching capability so that managers can act as coaches to more effectively drive organisational goals.

Training and reskilling alone is not enough to get us there. While it is absolutely important to ensure that people have the technical or speciality skills they require for a job, it just isn’t enough. It’s those capabilities ― foundational or Power Skills as Josh Bersin labels them ― that are going to make a difference. 

So, that means we need better and more effective ways to help people develop these skills. They are highly complex, and require not only knowledge acquisition that comes from training, but also the opportunities for reflective practice, applied learning, real-time observation and feedback as well as guidance. This is where coaching comes in.

3. Relook at retention and engagement

In this post-pandemic period, the Great Resignation or Great Reshuffle has manifested in significant difficulties with retaining employees or even just keeping them engaged. Roundtable participants brought up a range of differing views on how far companies should go to meet employee expectations, with some urging empathy for individual situations while others warning against pandering to excessive demands.   

One common attraction and retention factor that emerged was giving people the opportunity to leverage their own capacity and their own potential - to grow within the company, which the gathered leaders agreed also benefits the business directly. Another particularly important point was that people make their decision to stay or go based on having a sense of connection and belonging, which may have to be actively taught to a team - it does not necessarily emerge spontaneously.

The challenge here, however, is that these things cannot be implemented overnight, and their outcomes are long-term. Learning and coaching, the most direct approach, may not be reflected on the bottom line till after some time a programme has been introduced. 

“The impact of all these things comes over a period of time and sometimes we struggle to justify it to the CFOs and CEOs,” commented Bhawna. “But if we do it consistently for two or three years, we will definitely start to see results.”

Therefore, it is crucial when kick-starting any program to find champions within the organisation to be key influencers to spread the word, and use surveys or assessments to secure both quantitative and qualitative feedback. With both tools in place, it would help drive a strong case for scale and organisation-wide transformation that benefits both people and outcomes.

4. Equip managers to coach and mentor

In the changing world of work, how to lead, manage, and work in the hybrid or remote model is an inevitable part of any discussion. Again, roundtable participants shared a wide range of perspectives on this topic, depending on what had worked best for their own organisation: some found that calling people back to the office is not the right approach, while others suspected that the remote model may be a competitive disadvantage in the long term.


One common point of agreement, though, was that leaders and managers need to develop firstly, the judgement to understand the real objective of whatever model they decide upon, and secondly, the clarity to manage by that objective - to focus on deliverables, on building trust, and on making their management decisions as intentional as possible.

To this particular point, roundtable participants also explored the idea that many team managers and people leaders face their own internal stumbling blocks around management style, and these obstacles have been brought right to the forefront by the debate around hybrid and remote work. 

Hence, if managers and leaders are to be more effective in the evolving environment, they have to begin by navigating their own challenges and issues, whether through learning, mentorship, coaching, or a combination of all these.

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Topics: Leadership, Executive Coaching, Skilling

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