The last 20 months have been challenging to say the least. Covid-19 has dramatically changed how we all live together and interact with each other, both socially and in the way we make our livings. Prior to the pandemic, remote working was more of a trend than the dominant form of working life it has become. Now, after all Covid-19 has put us through, working remotely is indeed the way a vast and growing number of people earn their paychecks and put food on their tables.
All of which leaves me with a couple of important questions. First, a relatively easy one: Will remote working recede to pre-pandemic levels and a more leisurely pace of adoption, or will the level of remote working around the world and, particularly, in the U.S., continue to grow in scope and pace more akin to what we have experienced over the last 20 months? The answer to this question, in my opinion, is pretty simple. I believe that remote working will continue to grow at historically high rates of adoption and will continue its march across a host of industries, especially banking, accounting, medical, education, information technology, and all sorts of sales-driven business activities. And, I’m okay with that. Done right, remote working can be extremely efficient for companies and can provide significant work-balance benefits to workers.
Now, for the second and more difficult question. With all this remote working currently taking place and with much more on the way, what will business leadership look like in a remote world? In the good old days (when you had to drive to work), you could actually see leadership in action. The boss would call a meeting in the conference room. Everyone would grab a chair and the boss would be on display for all to observe. Was the boss open to new ideas, interactive, attentive, confident, and inspiring? Or was the boss just the opposite, someone who was going through the motions or just did not have the interpersonal skills to connect with or communicate to his or her team? How did the boss handle pressure and stress? Was the boss someone who was believable, real, and authentic? Historically, leadership was very observable, and younger workers would try to emulate the personal and decision-making qualities of their most successful managers.
Fast forward to where we are today: How does a company, knowing that most of its workforce is working remotely, develop its future company leaders? The first step is to acknowledge this new challenge. Chances are there are very talented people working for your company that you have never seen nor will see, given the remote working environment. Back in the day, daily social interaction in and around the office ensured that you were bound to run into smart, talented people in a meeting, in the lunchroom, or around the water cooler. Now, not so much.
So, sensing you have all sorts of hidden talent in your company, what do you do? Well, it’s like mining for gold. The gold just doesn’t jump out of the ground and into your sack. You’re a prospector You have to dig the gold out of the ground. It takes effort and, just as important, persistence. Just like a prospector, you will need tools to find the gold, but instead of picks and shovels, you will need a well- thought-out plan of attack.
I recommend making leadership identification a part of management’s performance goals. Challenge your executive managers to identify talented individuals who have the potential to lead. Those executive managers should, in turn, require their management staff to identify talented individuals, and so it goes all the way down the organization. Once the potential leaders are identified, tell them they have been noticed for their good leadership qualities and that, on behalf of the company, you would like to help develop those qualities.
In my experience, the most effective way to develop the skills of a potential leader is to take the following two-fold approach. First, a senior executive establishes a mentoring relationship with an identified employee, which would include regular discussions of an agreed upon series of management and leadership topics, as well as discussing job-related challenges the employee is experiencing.
Second, and maybe the most beneficial, is for the senior executive to challenge the employee with more responsibility, monitoring the employee’s performance under their new level of responsibility, discussing his or her performance, and helping the employee understand relevant business issues to improve decision making and, of course, leadership skills.
In this remote world, we will all need to work harder to find those employees who will be our organization’s future leaders. It’s up to the executive managers to establish and execute a process to find and leverage the talent buried within their company. Finding and promoting the next generation of leadership is crucial to an organization’s future success. And it goes without saying, that to mentor and watch someone become an important leader within your company is worth its weight in gold. So, I suggest you start digging!