There are different leadership strategies that business leaders use to drive their teams and organisations forward.
According to the varying preferences, personalities and values of each leader, their strategies will differ slightly. Is it a case of being more autocratic, or is it being more democratic, that is preferable, for example? Each style comes with its own list of pros and cons, according both to the research and the subordinates on the receiving end!
What comes up in today’s discussion, where we’ve asked leaders to comment on their effective strategies and approaches, is themes of:
- Clear communication
Perhaps this reflects the times we’re facing; the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 has likely influenced what we look for in leadership.
Here’s what our business leaders are suggesting and sharing in terms of their best leadership strategies and stories.
Michelle Gallaher, CEO of health data analytics company, Opyl
Leading the way begins with a calm and considered confidence. It’s not always about having the right answers, but if you lead with a composed and confident manner, people will listen to you.
For leaders to be effective, it’s important that they don’t become stuck in their ways. We must strive to develop our leadership strategies to align with the evolving needs of our team.
As we begin to see the other side of the COVID-19 crisis, leaders have an opportunity to experiment within their business; we have the chance to pilot new ideas and grow our services and products by trialling, adjusting and launching (repeat). If resources permit it – now is the time to adopt an agile approach to innovation – and your leadership style by extension.
Ben Thompson, CEO and co-founder of people management platform, Employment Hero
Clear, considered communication is an essential leadership strategy to unite and align teams to a company’s values and mission. Teams take behavioural cues from leaders, so it’s important that you communicate often, and with purpose. Regular one on one check-ins, weekly ‘all-hands’ and daily leadership catch-ups create a steady cadence, which helps staff stay motivated and productive, especially within remote workforces.
Creating a strong culture of reward and recognition reinforces the value of your team by acknowledging their hard work, while boosting engagement and employee satisfaction. Consider opening the floor at an all-hands meeting and encourage your leadership team to call-out others who have gone above and beyond, or create a dedicated Slack channel for recognising top-performers.
Alex Dreiling, CEO and co-founder of video creation platform, Clipchamp
Sometimes, leaders fall into the trap of adopting routines and habits that become rigid over time. That’s why it’s so important to consciously take on challenges that keep your leadership style relevant and engaging.
Pushing your boundaries, and encouraging your team to do the same, builds a culture of innovation, which is an essential ingredient to success in our fast-evolving world.
Get comfortable outside of your comfort zone, approach every situation as a chance to grow and learn, and don’t wait for change to happen around you – initiate it yourself. Great leaders make examples of themselves, so set the tone for your team by always seeking out opportunities to challenge yourself.
Trent Scanlen, Managing Director, Truth Origins
Managing an e-commerce business with a team of 16 across 7 different countries does have its challenges – like cultural disparity and differing time zones – but by giving my team consistent energy levels, attention, and support regardless of whether it’s 11 pm or 9 am, has positively influenced their commitment and productivity. COVID-19 has definitely given business owners and managers their biggest career challenge, but in our case, we were able to adapt quickly and smoothly. We have group Zoom meetings on Monday mornings UK time (evening in Australia) and always provide an agenda with built-in flexibility for everyone to contribute. I set clear daily and weekly goals, starting each meeting with a quick review of yesterday’s measurables. And I’m very transparent about future goals and love encouraging new ideas – great leaders know they never have all the answers. I love it when someone feels it’s OK to question what we’re doing and suggest a new approach; most of the winning ideas for many of my businesses throughout my 20-year career have come from team members – I just help bring them to life. Lastly, our company focus is always on the customer and we read every social media comment or email. Our aim is to build lasting relationships with our customers and have them trust our brand; evidently, this has paid off.
Andrew White, ANZ Country Manager of business transformation solutions provider, Signavio
Establishing consensus through collaboration is an effective leadership strategy that aligns your workforce to the broader company vision and best practices.
In the past, leaders have favoured technical skills over ‘soft skills’ like teamwork, collaboration, strategic thinking and communication; but these are essential components of the modern workforce, especially as businesses recognise the value of adapting to disruptive change quickly and efficiently.
It’s a leaders’ responsibility to establish a ‘single source of truth’ amongst business processes, which empower team members to take decisive action. In turn, this boosts productivity, engagement and operational performance.
Soft skills, like communication, are what develop the ‘single source of truth’ into a valuable resource, but it must be led from the top-down to benefit the entire company.
Vanessa Pigrum, CEO Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership
While there’s no comprehensive list of rules spelling out how to be the ‘best’ leader in all situations, especially during extraordinary circumstances like a global pandemic, there are a number of skills that many of the most effective and ethical leaders have in common.
Effective and ethical leaders communicate with clarity, empathy and authenticity. They actively and openly listen to those around them, particularly subject matter experts, rather than selectively listen to what suits their agenda. They are prepared to admit they might be wrong, and seek counsel to make sure their ideas and decisions stand up to ethical scrutiny.
Leaders also need to inspire trust, and this comes from a consistency in their actions, not just words. Particularly during trying times, leaders need to acknowledge hardships with emotional courage and be willing to take action in solidarity with those who look to them for guidance.
Importantly, effective leaders have a strong ethical framework to guide their decisions and actions, and allow themselves to be led by virtues like courage, kindness, generosity, and fairness.
It is often said that a crisis does not develop your character. Rather, a crisis reveals the true character you already have. This pandemic may be unprecedented in our lifetime, but there will always be other unforeseen disruptions ahead. For these reasons, it is imperative that all of us develop the discipline to strengthen our ethical values, our moral courage and our ability to think and reason with clarity, in our day to day lives, in order to be prepared for the post-pandemic recovery and for future disruptive events we cannot yet imagine.
Stuart Taylor, CEO at Springfox
The post-COVID environment is likely to be one of slow recovery on a psychological level, with many people feeling anxious and distressed about returning to work, according to our latest data. Here, leaders have a rare opportunity to stand up and be part of the solution. This leadership style must be underpinned by two key skills; compassion and realistic optimism.
Compassionate leaders truly care for their people and base their leadership on a deep understanding of their peoples’ situation, and a willingness to have challenging conversations to help realign the team to organisational objectives.
Realistic optimism is synonymous with resilient leadership – it’s virtually impossible to have one without the other. Realistic optimism says ‘today is a challenge, tomorrow will be a better day. Let’s go.’ This communication style from leaders acknowledges the current challenges and provides hope, purpose and vision for their teams, which is vital for effective leadership.
Ceri Ittensohn, Chief People & Culture Officer, TAL
The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the defining events of our lifetime, and like any crisis, leaders will be remembered by what they do during this time. More than ever, people are watching the decisions and choices that their leaders are making, and listening intently to the messages they are sending.
TAL leaders have played a key role in rapidly transitioning all our people to work safely and effectively from home, establishing new team rhythms and routines, deploying technology solutions, and ensuring we were able to continue to support our customers and partners. A virtual Leaders Hub was quickly created to share leadership resources, tips and experiences.
Communication has been key, and leaders readily adopted new digital tools to keep their teams engaged, connected and productive. Leaders have also prioritised the mental and physical well being of their teams through virtual workshops and exercise sessions designed to support wellness while working from home.
As we reflect on this challenging period we are proud of the way our leaders and our people have responded, our ability to come up with innovative solutions, and our commitment to our customers and partners in the face of uncertainty.
Ben Lipschitz, MD, FoodByUs
- Over share – share as much information as you can with the team, so they understand the full context of what is happening in the business. No number is too private – the more they know, the more they’ll understand all the micro and macro decisions being made.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat – during tough times and remote work, things can quickly get off track and there is no natural inter-office sharing of information. Therefore repeating the relevant information and thinking behind things can help keep everyone focused.
- Check in, for real – authenticity is always important, but particularly during tough times. Emotions can run high during something like COVID-19, and you need to continually really check in on your team. Letting your various teams suffer in silence is a sure-fire way to break your company culture and cause disenchantment.
Bruce Perry, Chief Operating Officer, Wontok
Leading a company has its challenges but doing it against the backdrop of unprecedented and unexpected disruption that COVID-19 has caused has been one of the hardest tests of all. But it’s also a time when effective leadership is needed more than ever.
True leadership is about having imagination, having an overriding vision but remaining adaptable to changing circumstances, and putting people first – whether staff, customers, clients, partners or other stakeholders. All effective leadership strategies flow from this.
Above all, effective leaders listen: to people and to data. You can’t make informed decisions and set your strategy without information. It requires keeping an open mind and being open to new ideas, and being able to communicate them so you can be innovative, competitive, and know where to steer your course in future.
Weh Yeoh, co-founder and CEO, Umbo
Lieutenant General George Flynn of the United States Marine Corps once said, “The cost of leadership is self-interest”. I truly admire this approach to leadership. An effective leader prioritises the well-being of the team and wider community without being fixated on their own perfection and selflessness.
A leader is also someone who generates a constructive, open and compassion-based dialogue with their teams. While team members will inevitably look to a leader for their vision, effective leaders won’t take this as a sign to constantly dictate what to do and how to do it. Listening is key – leaders create environments where everyone has a chance to share their ideas and feedback, and everyone’s views are equally heard and valued. Being able to empathise with where these opinions are coming from and the context in which they have manifested distinguishes effective leaders from ineffective dictators.
Finally, a true leader is one who works to make themselves redundant. This is the true test of a leader – whether they can get to a point where they are no longer required for the organisation to be able to achieve its vision and goals.
Daniel Edge, co-founder, Compeat Nutrition
Mike Featherstone, Managing Director, ANZ & APAC, Pluralsight
There’s recently been rapid change in a short amount of time, so it’s important to pivot leadership strategies to continually evolve. Business leaders must first identify internal areas of improvement and current tech skill gaps existing within their company that may be hindering growth or competitiveness. Now’s a crucial time for leaders to prioritise consistent skills development to ensure their workforce is keeping up with the current landscape, and prepared in the face of evolving market demands.
With many businesses shifting their strategies to accommodate a new digitally-led era, leaders and employees that are agile and adaptable can effectively meet goals and achieve overall success. By empowering employees with the skills to perform beyond their role, businesses are better prepared for the future of work and advancements in technology.
Steven Long, Regional Chief Technology Officer, AppDynamics
COVID-19 is a catalyst for IT professionals to step-up and become ‘Agents of Transformation’, leading their organisation through the challenges that this pandemic has caused. During the COVID-19 pandemic most organisations have had to rapidly pivot and digitally transform in order to meet new business conditions. Huge segments of the workforce have gone remote, and companies are switching to digital-only strategies to deliver services and products. According to a recent report by AppDynamics (Agents of Transformation report: COVID-19) 92 percent of Australian organisations have shifted their technology priorities during the pandemic, 75% state that COVID-19 has created the biggest technology pressure for their organisation they have ever experienced.
This rapid change in priorities has required phenomenal leadership from IT professionals within enterprise organisations. Despite the pressure brought by this unique situation, IT teams have ‘stepped up’ and technologists have recognised the need to become ‘Agents of Transformation’ within their organisation. 83% say that they believe they can positively impact how their business responds to – and then recovers from – the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sean Girvin, Managing Director ANZ, Rackspace
The most effective form of leadership is to lead by example. Early on in the COVID-19 crisis, we implemented a work from home mandate for our employees globally and equipped everyone with masks and remote technologies combined with mental health programs and wellness leave days. As a leader, I share with my team the ups and downs of my day and the demands of juggling work and home, because this openness encourages others to do the same and ask for help. It’s important to show vulnerability during such a challenging period.
“We’re also offering ongoing support to our customers as they face immense pressure to leverage cloud technologies and mobilise quickly online. Rackspace has set up a bank of resources on our website that contains expert advice to help organisations run in the midst of this disruption.
Joel Camissar, Regional Director of MVISION Cloud Asia Pacific, McAfee
At McAfee, we use our core values to drive the way we lead, innovating without fear, and practicing inclusive candour and transparency with customer at the core. This has helped us build an agile, diverse team, aspiring to achieve excellence with speed and agility. With these values guiding the way, we’ve come together as one team to remain creative and competitive to address the vital security needs of our customers.
All leaders should be looking to their company’s values, culture and overarching mission to build effective, adaptable strategies for their team. What must remain at the core of every leaders’ mission is inclusivity and equal opportunity that embraces differences—and that means celebrating under-represented and neuro-diverse talent pools. A leaders’ best chance at success is to lead by example, and keep authenticity and inclusion at the heart of every decision.