Coronavirus is making managers fast learners and more inclusive leaders

It is now a truism and a platitude to assert that the world will never be the same after Covid-19. But undeniably, organisations and teams have rapidly been forced to change the ways they function and there will probably be no going back.

While previously only lip-service might have been paid by some to the notion that people are the organisation’s most valuable resource, this has become executives’ and managers’ most pressing daily reality. Concepts such as mental-health, safety, caring, well- being, security and empathy, all core to an inclusive workplace culture, which previously might have been acknowledged as useful for employee engagement have now, out of necessity, been thrust front of mind. How well or poorly leaders perform now against these yardsticks is likely to be their enduring legacy.

Statistics produced from research done by Willis Towers Watson which explore the sudden and notably positive transformations are remarkable and even astonishing. Surveying the impact of Covid-19 on employee experience they report:

  • 95% say senior leaders have demonstrated a sincere interest in employee well-being and safety
  • 76% say collaboration of the overall organisation has improved significantly
  • 89% say measures to ensure people feel supported during this time have been put in place
  • 59% think working from home policies are likely to remain after the Covid-19 pandemic is gone

These are very promising findings. And an astonishing improvement on the usual status quo. But will they be sustained?

The report sets out the top two expectations of people of their leaders both during and coming out of Covid-19:

  • Be a crisis handler of small and big change
  • Lead by responding to the needs of others and collaborating across teams

This latter set of expectations describes some of the inclusive leadership capabilities that Symmetra has been measuring across the globe on our Inclusive Leadership Index and Team Inclusion Pulse Survey And our results pre-Covid have shown that when it comes to collaboration across teams and responding to the needs of others many leaders have always struggled with these expectations.

Symmetra’s data shows there is a huge range in capabilities of leaders to encourage close collaboration within teams, to span boundaries (collaboration across functions and disciplines) to listen attentively to the diverse opinions of others or to create opportunity to leverage diverse perspectives and ideas.

This siloed approach by leaders ultimately undermines the ability of leaders to counteract expert think, innovate and make the best quality decisions, all of which has become even more critical in the face of demands for rapid change right now. And whilst we are scrambling to manage the immediate fallout, it is also necessary to prepare at the same time for what’s next. This has been demonstrated historically by the most visionary leaders and requires an ability to switch on our system 2, listen to others, give consideration to diverse ideas and not allow just System 1 behaviour and decisions to dominate. This is commonly known as conscious inclusion.

The bottom line seems to be that Covid-19 has triggered mighty improvements in leadership, teamwork, and collaboration; and trust and confidence in many leaders has been enhanced during Covid-19. But notably all those astute organisations which recognise that leading inclusively is now more important than ever are capitalising on the momentum gained by ensuring a focus on inclusion in virtual teaming. The objective is to ensure their teams can thrive in these times of uncertainty and crisis and sustain such changes beyond. These visionary organisations and leaders are the ones that will look back and find they have garnered some lasting good borne out of this pandemic.

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