How to be a better leader in the new era of work

18 min read | Christoph Niewerth | Article |

Woman speaking with colleagues in online meeting

The pandemic drastically changed our world of work. Adjusting to the new way of working can be challenging as a leader. Here are our top tips for performing well in a leadership role in today’s climate.

People automatically look to their leaders in times of crisis. The last few years have brought on some of the greatest challenges those leaders have ever faced. Now that the pandemic has subsided, leaders will need to be equipped to succeed in a significantly transformed world of work. In this world, remote, hybrid and flexible working practices will be the cornerstones of the ‘new normal’.


Being a good leader in today’s climate at a glance

To be a good leader at work in this new era will require some adjustments. Effective leadership in today’s climate calls for an increased focus on communication and emotional intelligence. Additionally, a modern leader needs to be inclusive and self-aware. You need to create a comfortable work environment for everyone in your hybrid teams.

In order to be a role model for your team, you shouldn’t be afraid to show your human side. Adapting to new ways of working is a challenge for everyone. As a leader, you need an open minded approach to change and creative problem-solving skills to inspire your team to follow suit.

Keep reading to find out all of the skills great leaders need in the post-pandemic world.

You can also get in contact with one of recruitment consultants for impartial expert advice on your career.


11 skills a good leader should have in the new era of work

1. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence might be the most critical of all of the skills needed to be a leader in the new era of work. Emotional intelligence – also sometimes called EQ or EI – is the ability to manage our emotions. Effective emotion management is what enables us to better handle crisis situations.

Our EQ also allows us to appreciate and understand the emotions of others. Social and emotional skills are crucial for leaders who want to make the best decisions and build the best relationships. The importance of EQ is heightened amid the constant change, uncertainty and instability of the post-pandemic world of work.

2. Self-awareness

Linked with EQ, Merriam-Webster defines self-awareness as “an awareness of one’s own personality or individuality”. Organisational psychologist and researcher Tasha Eurich has gone further, identifying two broad categories of self-awareness: internal and external.

Internal self-awareness focuses on how clearly we see our own values, passions and aspirations, and our impact on others. Meanwhile, external self-awareness is our understanding of how other people see us. Eurich has underlined the importance of leaders actively working to develop both types of self-awareness. She comments: “…leaders must actively work on both seeing themselves clearly and getting feedback to understand how others see them.”

Key to developing that self-awareness is adopting a regular habit of mindfulness and self-reflection. Take time to reflect on your skills, strengths, weaknesses and behavioural patterns, and consider how those may be perceived by others. That reflection will allow you to better tell the difference between your own perception of a situation, and what the situation objectively is.

Reflection will also help you to develop better critical thinking skills and identify more accurately what your people need from you. That skill is critical in the new era of work.

3. Adaptability

During the pandemic, leaders have had to adapt and tackle new challenges on a near-daily basis. In the process, we’ve learned that we can affect significant change overnight. A good example of a recent significant change is how we leveraged entire workforces to suddenly start working remotely.

In the new era of work, we will need to continue to adapt quickly in response to the additional changes that will inevitably arise. This has been one of the key learnings our CEO, Alistair Cox has personally shared.

To continue adapting, your business and you as a leader must put multiple plans in place to achieve objectives. That approach ensures that whatever circumstances your organisation may face, it always has several potential solutions at its disposal. Take the steps now to devise contingency plans that will help your business to navigate the new challenges. But, be ready to pivot them quickly, and in a completely different direction, if required.

The most successful leaders in today’s world will be those who have the confidence to take a fluid approach.

4. Communication

People look to leaders for direction and a sense of the way forward in these uncertain times. The way you communicate this will have a huge impact.

Leaders in the new era of work need to be authentic, clear and regular communicators. You have to be able to admit that you don’t have all of the answers, but are working hard to find them.

As our CEO, Cox says: “When a massively destructive event like this happens, and people are worried, anxious and scared, they look upwards to the leader of the business for answers – answers we, as leaders, don’t always have.”

“But at times like these, there’s no place to hide, you’ve got to be out there front and centre. The key is to maintain regular communication, and give direction in a clear, honest, authentic and humble way. This gives people guidance and reassurance, even when that reassurance might be difficult to give.”

As a leader, you will also need to adjust your communication for the new era of the hybrid teams. You will need to maintain clear and fair lines of communication with employees. This is true whether they work remotely or base themselves in the office. Every team member should feel equally included in your organisation’s mission in the current working landscape.

5. Creative problem-solving

A famous argument goes that crisis and limitation, rather than stability and freedom, help to spur on creativity and innovation. Charlotte Gifford noted that: “we often assume that we are at our most creative when we have an abundance of time and resources at our fingertips, but research suggests that constraints help us unlock our brightest ideas.”

The coronavirus crisis has been likened to wartime in terms of the effects it has had on innovation. This ingenuity came about during the pandemic because of the urgent need for it. As we’ve transitioned into the post-covid era of work, we still need to tackle challenges creatively and think outside of the box.

One of the key lessons we’ve learnt recently is that leaders have to prepare for change. Even if they do not proactively innovate themselves, changing circumstances and needs are likely to eventually force their hand.

6. Critical thinking

Closely related to creativity and problem-solving, critical thinking will be imperative in the new era of work.

But what is critical thinking? Shawn Doyle – the President at New Light Learning and Development Inc. – defined critical thinking as “thinking about how you think”. He went on to cite several steps that we can all take to develop our critical thinking skills. These steps include taking online classes, being unafraid to question assumptions, and teaching team members to think more critically and objectively.

In this new and unpredictable era, we all need to show greater willingness to question our own thought patterns. Use your critical thinking skills to explore every conceivable leadership problem from every possible angle. That allows you to place yourself in a better position to devise the right solutions.

7. Inclusiveness

One key change that the pandemic brought to the world of work is a surge in remote working. As we’ve moved through the crisis, we have seen the introduction of hybrid teams. There are teams where some workers are office-based, others home-based, and others mix it up. It has never been more important to lead in an inclusive way and ensure that every member of the team feels they are of value.

Dan Robertson, Diversity & Inclusion Director at ENEI, wrote that inclusive leaders tend to be those who provide a compelling vision that inspires diversity of thinking. Inclusive leaders also show high levels of empathy and acceptance of everyone without bias. They have an ability to listen to the opinions of diverse groups.

Robertson also noted that insufficiently inclusive leadership hampers innovation. Even pre-Covid-19, it was important for leaders to take an inclusive approach. This approach helps avoid the ‘groupthink’ that could be so damaging to organisational decision-making. It also minimises the likelihood of unconscious bias in talent selection, retention and recruitment.

Hays Australia and New Zealand Managing Director Nick Deligiannis also wrote about how you can ensure you’re leading your remote and hybrid teams inclusively. These steps should include setting expectations and making accountability clear to all staff at an early stage. Leaders should commit equal focus to each member of the team and discourage a ‘them and us’ culture between remote and office-based staff.

8. A commitment to lifelong learning

As Cox says, “Nothing I could have learned at business school could have ever prepared me for the pandemic. While it was undoubtedly the most challenging time in my career, it was also valuable in terms of lessons learned.” The Covid-19 crisis certainly shone a spotlight on the importance of commitment to lifelong learning, regardless of seniority.

In the new era of work, the best leaders will be committed to their own lifelong learning. You should also be prepared to role-model those learning behaviours within you organisation. Encourage your employees to develop a growth mindset, where they are always on the lookout for new opportunities to learn.

Cox says, “I strongly believe that you are never too senior or old to learn something new. In fact, the best leaders I know are always learning new things, reading, or exploring a lot. Above all, they always make their own development a personal priority.

These people usually lead high-performing businesses. And that’s no coincidence. As I see it, if the leader of a business is committed to their own learning, generally their entire workforce can be too. And that can only lead to good things.”

9. Considered risk taking

The ability to take well-reasoned, calculated risks has always been an important component of good leadership. Leaders should not confuse it with genuinely reckless risk taking that combines high risk with low potential reward.

In the new era of work, this skill has probably become even more pivotal. After all, this is a time of ongoing evolution in the corporate landscape. Leaders need to be ready to take opportunities as they arise. These opportunities will always involve an element of risk taking and venturing into the unknown.

To make risk taking an effective part of your own leadership strategy, you should need a clear goal and vision first. Then, gather all the information you will require to estimate the risk of a given action.

Make sure to also consider the costs of the particular action relative to your resources. Evaluate the potential positive and negative outcomes of taking that risk.

10. Resilience

It is impossible for even the most effective leader to only ever experience success in their life and career. The reality is that as a leader, you will encounter setbacks from time to time. In order to overcome these disappointments and failures, you will need to build personal resilience.

The IMD describe resilient leaders: “[They have] the ability to sustain their energy level under pressure, to cope with disruptive changes and adapt. They bounce back from setbacks. They also overcome major difficulties without engaging in dysfunctional behaviour or harming others.”

The coronavirus crisis has simply underlined the longstanding importance of leaders being able to function well under pressure. A resilient leader sees the opportunity in every failure. You need to face obstacles head on and have a great ability to draw strength for challenging moments in your life and work.

11. Authenticity

Successful business is all about human connection. So, your leadership approach shouldn’t be cold and impersonal – it should feel human and authentic.

Why is acknowledging all of this so important in the new era of work? The reasons are simple. Despite the highly interconnected technological world, we seem to be in danger of losing a sense of our human connection. The post-pandemic will force us to work together to determine effective routes forward.

People felt more isolated and lonely than ever during the pandemic. So, the restoration of authenticity and a sense of human connection should be key priorities for leaders in the coming years.

As Capgemini have put it, “authentic leadership’s key purpose is to develop a sense of belonging, shared values and success. All of these are aspects that may easily disappear in the modern, virtual workplace.”

Leaders should also be unafraid to show their vulnerability, another quality that might not seem obviously beneficial to leadership. Opening up to your workers could actually help you to set an important example of honesty and trust.

Be vulnerable enough to admit that you don’t have all of the answers to a given problem. That way you can open up a space for other members of the team to provide feedback and ideas. As we’ve mentioned, feedback and ideas are crucial in this new era where we are constantly meeting new challenges.

Of course, being vulnerable as a leader also helps to make you more relatable and approachable to your team members. It signals to them that it’s okay to be authentically themselves.

What you need to remember about being a good leader in today’s climate

By now it’s no surprise to us that the Covid-19 crisis impacted the corporate landscape. It’s also true that all of the above qualities have always been valued in leaders. Nonetheless, they have arguably become even more important in the new era of work. Keep in mind that, on top of these skills, you also need the ability to adopt different leadership styles when needed in this changing landscape.

Take the time now to build on your skills in all of these key areas. Then, you will be in a strong position to lead your business into the new era of work and beyond.

For more leadership advice and work-related guides, take a look at our career advice section.


About this author

Christoph Niewerth, Board, Germany

After completing his degree as a qualified industrial engineer, Christoph Niewerth joined Ascena (former Hays) as an account manager in 1999. After progressing to department manager, he later became a divisional and branch manager. In 2008 he was appointed Director of Contracting.

In January 2012, Mr. Niewerth joined the Board of Directors and was appointed Chief Operating Officer. He is responsible for the Sales specialisms IT, Finance, Legal, Retail and Sales & Marketing in Germany as well as the company’s affiliates in Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Russia. He is also responsible for Talent Solutions, public affairs and strategic customer development.

articleId- 47889397, groupId- 20151