Like a bizarre episode of the Twilight Zone, we’ve been collectively plunged into an alternate Coronavirus reality. Daily routines, social constructs, and economic certainties are upended, and for many, the future has turned from foggy to blank. What does the world look like in a post Covid-19 time? What does leadership look like in the future? The past is not a sufficient prologue for the future, so we must imagine a leadership that matches what our world needs.
The Current World Situation
Never in our lifetime have all nations slammed a foot on the brakes, till now. Our economy and society are predicated on the premise of inventing, creating, and consuming things and experiences. We’re trained and prepared for crazy busy, not crazy bored. As governments and companies force people to isolate, we’re learning that isolation has a materially negative impact on the economy, and on our physical, emotional, and spiritual lives. States are in lockdown, the stock market is in free fall, supply chains are disrupted, whole industries are brought to their knees, and people are scared, uneasy and confused.
Leadership has always been a dance with uncertainty. The word leader derives from lithan, an Anglo-Saxon root that means to travel, to go. To lead is to leave the familiar and engage opportunity, vision, risk, and uncertainty. This crisis shines a brilliant light on leadership, and we’re aching for leaders who are empathetic, competent, and inspiring – what can be described as conscious leaders.
Whether we’re in our offices or in the field, or quarantined at home, we may be separated, but we do not have to be isolated. During this time of physical distancing, isolation must turn into collaboration, and denial must turn to conscious engagement. Now’s the time for leaders to extend beyond personal needs and fears, and serve: stay connected with employees, via morning video calls, individual phones calls, and support your employee with your presence and attention to provide a sense of normalcy in this abnormal time.
What is a Conscious Leader?
Fundamentally, a leader is someone who influences others’ behavior. You’re a leader when you get people to follow your intent. Leadership, then, is influencing and organizing people to achieve meaningful results. One can’t organize or influence people if they’re disconnected! Therefore, a leader must remain connected to their people, avoid the trap of isolationism, and keep the flow of ideas, plans, decisions and feelings moving. That’s a conscious leader.
The Coronavirus is particularly challenging leaders who are stuck in an old way of thinking. This old way of thinking prone to isolation and detachment; it’s the thinking that creates distance and protection from demands and relationships. Old thinking is focused on linear transactions, busyness, and productivity. Old thinking relies on bonuses and equity for engagement. Old thinking promotes results and just tolerates relationship. This old thinking that is based in isolation won’t survive the Coronavirus impact on business. The emerging path to success is conscious leadership.
Don’t get me wrong, if you’re sick, then isolate. But the sickness of isolating yourself and your business from global connectedness and community connectedness is a lethal one. The common denominator for all conscious leaders is understanding interconnectedness – people, planet, markets, moods. The common feature of all conscious leaders is being connected – to their body and spirit, to their people, and to their community.
A conscious leader also recognizes that authority can be respected, but also feared; people who fear their boss are going to be defended, protected, and disconnected. A conscious leader will recognize and understand this phenomenon and take steps to prevent this. Conscious leaders ask open-ended questions (and don’t grill the employee), they practice active listening, they take in bad news along with good, they reduce fear and increase safety, they create meaningful conversations about topics that matter, they think about what’s best for themselves their people, their organization, and the community and environment. Conscious leaders don’t isolate, they extend themselves in humility to include people (as C.S. Lewis wrote, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”).
The Leader of the Future
The Coronavirus pandemic is proving unequivocally that we live in an interconnected world. The leader of the future – the conscious leader – will honor and embrace the interconnectivity of this world. The conscious leader is moving away from old thinking of visible hierarchy, and toward the new thinking of inter-related networks. Yes, org charts will remain, but they won’t be enough. Conscious leaders don’t treat structures like containers of growth. Rather, they treat structures like trellises into which they weave growth.
The leader of the future looks outside of themselves and outside of their system to evaluate the bigger picture. Our leaders of the future must move from serial thinking to parallel thinking, from hierarchical thinking to network thinking. This statement rings true no matter if you are the CEO of 3M or a CEO of a six-person distributer in Iowa. Interconnectedness is important and pertinent to the future of successful and effective leadership. A leader of the future organizes and influences people in this interconnected network within their own organization, among the suppliers, and customers and public opinion.
Everything and everyone are connected; understanding and accepting that is the key to successful leadership of the future.
Eric Kaufmann, president and founder of Sagatica, is the author of Four Virtues of a Leader. He’s also a Fellow and an official Thought Leader at Harvard’s Institute of Coaching, a former Vistage Chair and Speaker, and a speaker for TEDx.