Article:

Post-Covid leadership: a critical perspective

Written by Dr. Md Hamid Uddin Tuesday 27 April 2021
We need leaders for the times – but with so much change over the past year, what does good management look like?
Glass ball in front of city skyline - the ball has inverted the skyline so it's upside down

Leadership and managerial practices evolved alongside human civilization; as people started living in groups and formed organisations, they created specific goals for the benefit of members and society, and leaders encouraged them forwards.

The classical theories such as Bureaucracy organizations (Weber), Administrative Management Theory (Fayol), and Scientific Management (Taylor) provided the building blocks for organisational management that include: division of work, specialisation, hierarchical organisation structure with authority, responsibility, and unity of direction and command. While global managerial practices have developed these principles over the past century, the advancement of cyber technology as well as the  Covid-19 disruptions have changed the managerial paradigm for modern organizations. Managers need to sync their leadership and business strategy with the disruptions (Fuller & Theofilou, 2021).

Research shows that business transformations across countries over the past years were rather slower than the speed of technological innovation. This is because how the CEO and top management team think and act in response to the changing environment (e.g. technological shifts and Covid-19 disruption) does matter for organisational success (Dewar, et al., 2019). The critical question is whether managers who continue to focus on classical management theories in an orthodox way can provide effective leadership and address the emerging organisational challenges in this increasingly technology-driven post-covid period.

The recent World Economic Forum report shows that the pace of technology adoption has been accelerating in most business areas; his, coupled with recent Covid-19 disruption, will result in a ‘double-disruption’ for workers.  Six out of 10 people worldwide are likely to lose their jobs by 2025, as the increasingly creative use of technology reduces the number and types of roles needed to make businesses function effectively (WEF, 2020).

We can foresee that, during and after the Covid-19 pandemic, managers will face a critical challenges in managing hybrid teams (Knight, 2020). With specific reference to the ‘new norm’ of incorporating flexible or remote working, managers will need to plan how employees who are physically present in the office remain in sync with those working remotely to achieve the organisational goals. This will require some revisiting of management theory from an academic standpoint to redefine the division of work, specialisations, organisational structure with authority, responsibility, and unity of direction and command. Managers need to create practices and interactions that build fairness and flexibility into the workflow while also ensuring that individuals and teams continue to achieve (or exceed) set objectives.

Managers will also need to consider adjusting their leadership style – embracing a more trusting, flexible and supportive approach to different models of employee engagement while ensuring that productivity is maintained and outcomes are achieved.  This involves managing different team dynamics, blurred personal and professional boundaries and a need for new management practices that address hybrid-specific issues. Most research shows that managerial support is critical in helping employees overcome the stress and health issues arising from social isolation at home (Oakman, et al., 2020; Deloitte, 2020), and that a new style of supportive leadership will be at the center of organisational success over the coming years.

Three important takeaways that link to CMI areas of interest:

  • The managerial paradigm for modern organizations will need to change as a result of the recent Covid-19 disruptions and the widespread adoption of digital technology
  • Managers will increasingly lead hybrid teams with people working remotely from different locations. This will require new leadership approaches and styles that effectively support individuals to achieve/exceed organisational goals
  • It is time to revisit management and leadership theories to redefine organizational management perspectives and future management research areas

For more content relating to Covid-19, including necessary leadership skills and case studies, visit CMI’s Leading Through Uncertainty hub.

References:

  • Deloitte, 2020. Workforce strategies for a post-COVID-19 recovery, Toronto: Deloitte.
  • Dewar, C., Hirt, M. & Keller, S., 2019. The mindsets and practices of excellent CEOs, s.l.: McKinsey & Company.
  • Fuller, J. & Theofilou, B., 2021. Are Your Managers in Sync with Your Change Strategy?. Harvard Business Review, Volume March 4.
  • Knight, R., 2020. How to Manage a Hybrid Team. Harvard Business Review, Volume October 07.
  • Oakman, J. et al., 2020. A rapid review of mental and physical health effects of working at home: how do we optimise health?. BMC Public Health, 20(1825).
  • WEF, 2020. The Future of Job Report, Cologny, Switzerland: The World Economic Forum.

 

Dr. Md Hamid Uddin is head of business programmes at the University of Southampton Malaysia.

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