The new face of leadership

Covid has transformed the face of leadership. Soft skills have moved to the foreground as essential qualities for leaders at the best-run companies. With HR leaders naming the preparation of leaders for the new world order as their number one priority for 2023 in a recent Gartner report, a quick exploration of the topic seems timely.


The Wall Street Journal recently published a fascinating article on the subject. Based on an analysis of 20,500 psychometric assessments of CEOs and other leaders, here are the highlights:


Leaders of today’s best-run companies are displaying new qualities that are essential to building a more caring and empathetic workplace.


Among the 20 character traits tested, tolerance of ambiguity – as in previous years – had the strongest positive correlation with the five areas of success measured – customer satisfaction, employee engagement and development, innovation, social responsibility and financial strength. Trust, risk-taking and adaptability all remained in the top five list of character traits common to successful leaders too.


However, when it comes to competencies – that is, skills that come naturally to some but can also be attained and fine-tuned with experience and training – there are stark differences between the findings of the 2022 report and that of 2020 and 2021. Four of the top-five ranking competencies from previous years fell off the list – ‘builds effective teams,’ ‘drives engagement,’ ‘communicates effectively,’ and ‘cultivates innovation.’ In fact, the only constant was ‘collaborates’. The four new competencies in the top five are ‘global perspective,’ ‘manages ambiguity,’ ‘interpersonal savvy’ and ‘instils trust.’


The article claims that there’s a strong link between these new competencies and the demands imposed by the pandemic. A global perspective has become essential amid supply-chain disruptions and reduced worker flow across borders. Managing ambiguity (as opposed to simply tolerating it) has come to the fore. And showing interpersonal savvy and instilling trust have risen in tandem with the increased mental strain imposed on employees during the pandemic.


With more challenges than ever facing business leaders – economic uncertainty, spiralling inflation, the war in Ukraine and more – there’s a lot of pressure to adapt. And it’s HR’s responsibility to give leaders and managers all the support they need to do so. It’s good news that the new leadership competencies considered critical to business success relate to skills – which can be learned – as opposed to personality. The global HR community is, in response, turning its attention to the development of training programmes to support leaders in their acquisition and strengthening of these valuable soft skills.


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