Demonstrating the value of collaborative leadership during crises

In 2000, a leading expert in behavioural science, Daniel Goleman, outlined the six key styles of leadership: autocratic, paternalistic, democratic, laissez-faire, transactional and transformational, with each having their own merits and drawbacks. However, the recent global pandemic has irrevocably altered the business landscape, as traditional work practices and routines have been forced to adapt to the needs of an increasingly remote workforce. These changes have been easier for some and presented new challenges for others. At C-suite level, it has been integral that leaders continue to harness the potential within their workforces to ensure that growth and innovation do not fall by the wayside.  As such, it has become increasingly clear that our new normal calls for a seventh, more collaborative style of leadership to come to the fore. Through this, middle-market business leaders can continue to drive growth by empowering others to collectively nurture and experiment with new ideas across their business.

In a survey conducted by RSM International earlier this year, it was revealed that nearly half (48%) of new ideas within European businesses were never explored by senior management, with 37% stating that resistance from senior leadership is the greatest barrier to change. But change should not be feared; it is an opportunity to unlock new opportunities and to challenge the norm. As a middle-market business leader, letting go of control can sometimes seem the hardest task of all, particularly in times like these where the wrong move can spell disaster. But micro-management can stifle creativity and diminish potential, especially in moments of rapid evolution. It can prevent brilliant thinkers from experimenting, provide a false sense of security and render organisations inflexible.

New challenges will continue to arise as lockdown measures ease and tighten as the virus recedes and spreads. It is the responsibility of collaborative leaders to empower those within their businesses to find comprehensive and innovative solutions to these new problems. By working together and supplying teams with the necessary support and toolkits, leaders can face challenging situations head on, rather than simply directing from above.

Demonstrating collaboration is also a powerful way to motivate employees through difficult times. Businesses across the globe have been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis, with some having to introduce unpaid leave, cut pay or make redundancies. Asking employees to make these sacrifices while continuing to deliver in their roles requires trust in the leadership, transparency in the decision-making process and support where it is needed. In practice this can take many different forms; from weekly virtual meetings, where teams are encouraged to be open about the challenges they are facing, to offering additional technology and office equipment to those who do not have dedicated working areas at home. Internal surveys can act as a barometer for the mood of an organisation and show senior management how to help their employees’ transition to the new normal that bit easier. Weekly internal newsletters can also provide another layer of connection between staff in each corner of a sprawling business, from back office to support to front line workers, demonstrating that they are all part of a single team driving towards the same objectives.

As a leader, displaying understanding and empathy has also never been more crucial. Video conferencing has given us a window into the homes and lives of colleagues who we would not, ordinarily, have seen outside the office. Workers at all levels have taken responsibility for the emotional well-being of isolated colleagues. As a leader, all it takes is a little compassion and empathy to listen to those problems, provide support and help find a solution. Diffusing this ethos across a business will foster a community in which no one feels alone or abandoned in the face of pressure or stress, be it personal or professional.

2020 will be marked as a turning point for not only business but society as a whole. Many middle-market businesses have already proven themselves able to adapt rapidly to face new challenges and situations, but the change does not have to stop there. New circumstances provide new opportunities to listen, learn and innovate, to ensure your business and workforce can continue to thrive. We cannot predict how long this current situation will continue for but, as we continue to adapt, an empowered workforce under strong, collaborative leadership has the most potential to emerge more resilient and innovative than before – to thrive and not just survive.