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Leading Forward into a new normal

By Eleanor Shaw - Posted on 20 August 2020

Following our latest online Leading Forward talk, Professor Eleanor Shaw pulls together some of the panel's thoughts on the 'new normal' and likely implications for education, entrepreneurship, how we work, organisational cultures and leadership.

While coronavirus has stopped us hosting in-person events, we were delighted to host a virtual Leading Forward event in the latest of what has been a successful Leading Forward series. In June we brought together our speakers over the last year to one virtual session to revisit the topics they first spoke about, considering these within the context of a global pandemic. We were delighted to welcome back (virtually!) Dr Lena Wilson CBE FRSE; the Honourable Mary Jo Jacobi; Jacqui Ferguson and Deirdre Michie OBE.

We were pleased too that so many people from around the globe were able to join us to hear the experiences of our panellists and to ask questions. In this blog I’d like to share some of my thoughts on what was discussed at our webinar.

Education

While there are currently many unknowns about the future, one thing we do know is that we are now living in a ‘new normal’. While this phrase has become ubiquitous, it is unlikely we will return to life as we previously knew it.

In the world of education, the swift impact of the pandemic has meant that universities have had to change – at haste – their delivery of teaching and learning. While, for some, this may have been a quick and steep learning curve, new knowledge and competencies have been acquired, more agile approaches have been adopted and indeed, in some cases, more impactful teaching has been delivered.

It’s likely that for higher education this ‘new normal’ will involve a blending of campus-based delivery with digital delivery. The challenge for many in the sector is that they will have to become ‘ambidextrous’ as they will have to invest and excel in both if they are to provide useful learning experiences which will be successful in providing students not only with subject-specific knowledge but also a learning mind-set and an aptitude in resilience – both will be much needed in the future world of work.

Entrepreneurship

The notion of ‘necessity’ entrepreneurship or the idea that individuals can be pushed into entrepreneurship is not new. What we are slowly recognising (although this too is not a novel idea) is that an entrepreneurial mindset that is motivated by and drawn to innovation and creativity is something that benefits not only the founders and leaders of entrepreneurial ventures but is fast becoming one of the most sought-after skills of employees.

Epidemiologists tell us that we are likely to encounter more pandemics in the future. In a world that will be increasingly difficult to predict and that must adopt nimble structures and agile ways of working to be able to take swift action when unexpected “shocks” impact, then creative, innovative thinking matched with a capacity to be resilient will become attractive assets.

Flexible working

Most of us have had to get used to home working during the pandemic and this too can bring its own challenges. Home working may not be for everyone but restrictions imposed to stop the spread of COVID have meant that even the most social, outgoing, extraverts who get their energy from working closely with others have had to accept the likelihood that some form of home working is probably here to stay.

Not only is the move to home working a challenge for employees, some leaders are likely to face the double challenge of adopting to working from home while still leading their teams. We are in uncharted territory and new approaches to working and leading are likely to be needed although some of our old ways of engaging are likely to endure.

In the ‘new normal’ it’s likely that all sorts of technologies will be used to help us work from home and lead others working from home. The now widespread use of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype and other ways of communicating and engaging with our colleagues and teams has been useful but we all need to learn how to use these properly if we are to avoid “Zoom fatigue”. Project management tools like Trello and Basecamp can help cut down on time spent in meetings by sharing information and providing efficient ways of progressing projects as people can flexibly update their progress and contributions as and when these happen.

Cultural change

In the ‘new normal’ of blended working – mixing some time in work environments with some time in home environments - it’s to be expected that cultures will change. It’s likely that as organisational structures become more nimble and working patterns and processes become more agile, cultures will have to evolve to recognise and support the greater flexibility likely to be present in future workplaces.

It may be that cultures become more embracing of open innovation and foster different ways of working - for example, small, tight-knit teams working on well-defined projects over short, sharp periods of time known as ‘sprints’ - and other methodologies often found within entrepreneurial organisations may become more widely spread across all sorts of organisations.

Compassionate leadership

I think something we have all come to realise this year is the importance of kindness and tolerance in our world. When faced with the threat of an invisible ‘enemy’ people have had to come together to work and support one another. We have learned that there are enjoyable and often unintended consequences of greater tolerance and kindness – increased productivity, greater sense of community and a recognition that we are ‘in in together’. In our new ways of working, these more traditional values have demonstrated their current relevance and their endurance – let’s hope these are here to stay.

It’s also important to be both bold and compassionate in our new work despite this being a time of immense commercial pressure for many businesses. As entrepreneurial leaders, we need to be ‘ambidextrous’ - to work simultaneously on, and in, our businesses and to be to be bold and ambitious while also being caring and compassionate.These aspects of leadership are not at odds with one another and indeed are actually complementary. If a leader is able to articulate their bold vision, that’s great, but if they cannot exercise the compassion needed to help their team understand their role on achieving this and how they can contribute, success will be challenging. By combining and demonstrating both, leaders put themselves in a strong position to realise their bold ambitions through the compassionate leadership of their teams.

While the pandemic has brought hurt and suffering to many, hopefully we can also learn something from this and lead forward with confidence into our new normal in both our personal and professional lives.

Date for dairies - our next virtual Leading Forward event in partnership with the Royal Bank of Scotland will feature Alison Rose, CEO, Royal Bank of Scotland, and will take place on October 2 at 10.30am - details on how to reserve a place will be available as soon as possible on the SBS events page.



 




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