What is the Future of Leadership?


Future of Leadership


Contributed by: Ellie Rich-Poole, The Recruitment Coach

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Sophie Smith, Experian’s HR Director for Asia Pacific and the global head of their Future of Work (FOW) Project on the BritCham Podcast. We were exploring the hot topic of ‘the future of work’, with a particular focus on leadership and the evolution of the role of the leader.

Sophie shared some background to the FOW Project at Experian, her learnings to date and some tips to help leaders and HR professionals as they continue to navigate this new and rapidly evolving world we are living in. She summarised that it is likely that the past year has forever transformed the way we work, accelerating changes that many of us predicted would happen over decades. It has given organistations the opportunity to adjust when, where and how they work. What is clear is that there is no one future and no single solution that fits every company and every situation.

At Experian they started their FOW project by doing three things:

  1. Understanding the emerging trends – the things the organisations who are trailblazing are doing.
  2. Listening to Consultancy predictions – the things they see as the differentiators for employers in the future.
  3. Seeking input from colleagues across different functions and global regions to gain as many diverse perspectives as possible.

They then set up a wide-reaching project covering talent, culture, leadership, real estate, governance and controls, information security, reward and tax, and ways of working.

During the podcast we focused on the leadership elements of this, but as a committee we plan to explore other areas in our upcoming events.

Here are some of my takeaways from the session:

According to i4cp (the Human Capital Research firm), in 2018 only 29% of leaders were considered highly effective at leading virtual teams. Just two years later this became everyone’s reality and leaders have had no choice but to adapt, quickly.

There are some important skills and focus areas needed for leading virtual teams and organisations must consider how they are supporting leaders to develop these, including:

  • Digital fluency – their ability to use technology both to do the ‘day job’, collaborating with remote colleagues and also to recreate spontaneous ‘around the watercooler’ interactions via platforms like Slack, Zoom, Teams or WhatsApp.
  • Developing team spirit – keeping purpose and energy high amongst a remote team and building relationships.
  • Emotional awareness – both picking up subtle clues on how people are feeling by dialing up their EQ and also proactively checking in with team members.
  • Relationship building and creating a culture of trust. Taking time to get to know people at a deeper level is key. It will instill trust, and help take a relationship off ‘task’ which creates surface deep relationships. Instead leaders need to dedicate time to getting to know their team personally, their personal circumstances, their strengths what they enjoy doing and why they virtually show up each day wanting to give their all to a role.
  • Remote onboarding – supporting new hires who may never see their teammates in person and won’t get the cultural clues usually picked up from being in the office environment.
  • Strong performance management skillsets – the ability to set really clear goals and hold people to account against them without letting subjectivity on performance creep in.
  • Facilitation of virtual meetings to ensure all voices are heard – virtual working creates the risk that those with the loudest voices dominate. Leaders must ensure they are being inclusive and invite input from all, particularly if they lead a multi-cultural team.
  • Ensuring fairness – a leader could have more physical time with some team members than others (depending on the split of office and remote working). They need to ensure fair treatment for both camps, consistent attention and consideration for development and promotion opportunities.

Leaders themselves need to be proactive in making things happen, not waiting to be ‘told’ by the organization. Free, or low cost easy wins could include virtual happy hours and quizzes. Planning thoughtful gifts for moments that matter in their teams lives (marriage, moving house, new babies etc).

The context for leaders has changed in the last year which has meant different requirements for them as a leaders. Many of them have adapted how they lead. In many cases they have become more human. They have let their vulnerabilities, pressures and concerns show more. They have woken up to the importance of employee wellbeing and support in some cases through first-hand experience.

Many leaders are suffering a loss of confidence. They are also leading people who are dealing with a range of challenges from loneliness, to home schooling, to burnout and more. In some cases their previous strengths are less relevant now. Sophie shared five tips for helping leaders with this:

  1. Develop mental health awareness in leaders. Equip them with the tools and techniques to spot signs of brewing burnout or mental health tension so they know how to address the situation if it arises, and when to call on professional help.
  2. Encourage leaders to be brave and to reveal their own story, how they are doing personally and their highs and lows. To share their own coping strategies and show some vulnerability. This builds trust and respect.
  3. Consider employee assistance programmes (confidential counselling helplines), or an employee relief fund for grants in times of hardship – these steps help the welfare of the teams they lead.
  4. Set up a buddy system for team members who are living alone and equip them with conversation starter cards to prompt a social yet virtual encounter.
  5. Review the workload and capacity of their team and if someone has too much on, stand alongside them to reprioritise their workload. It is very hard to homeschool and do a job like you did before – showing appreciation of this will go a long way.

What organisations previously considered as ‘high potential’ is changing. More than ever the ‘how’ as well as the ‘what’ must be recognized and rewarded. Empathy and EQ are more important than ever and role models who exhibit these traits should be spotlighted.

To listen to the full podcast head to the British Chamber of Commerce Singapore channel on all the usual platforms such as Spotify, Apple & Google.

Ellie Rich-Poole is The Recruitment Coach. She helps people land their perfect job and be brilliant in it. She is one of the Co-Chairs of the Leadership, Talent and Professional Development Committee for BritCham in Singapore.