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What a leader needs to know for 2023 – the year of the ‘new different’

Nigel Girling
Nigel Girling
Head of Professional Qualifications
What a leader needs to know for 2023 – the year of the ‘new different’

Once again, this has been a challenging and demanding year for leaders at all levels. Many organizations have gravitated to an uneasy accommodation of hybrid and virtual working that leaves many buildings empty and many teams fragmented. It has been the best we could do under the challenging grip of a pandemic – and its equally volatile aftermath.

So what has been the effect and what might we do to improve things next year?

There is no doubt that organizations have faced a ‘sea of troubles’ this year and in the couple of years before that, as the pandemic re-wrote the rules of engagement.

  • Rising operating costs, coupled with – and fuelling – a rapid and ongoing rise in the cost of living, putting pressure on salaries and even on the ability of some employees to continue working
  • A new generation of employees who have never experienced what Boomers like me would see as a ‘normal’ workplace – causing mismatches in expectation and attitude with their older leaders
  • Constant and escalating volatility and uncertainty, creating anxiety and disconnection across the landscape
  • Burnout at every level, but especially for leaders trying to carry the weight of expectation and provide support to their people under pressure
  • Conflict, war, a torrent of negative news, social media firestorms, political unrest, financial instability, rising inflation, fuel shortages, interest rates, food banks, housing prices…. Need I go on?

The thing is – most years are a bit like this.

There’s always been instability and major problems, there’s always been conflict and financial difficulties and there’s always something going on that makes it hard to keep everyone positive and motivated. That’s just how it is – and it’s up to us as leaders to respond in the best way we can.

Essentially, the job of a leader is to find ways to rise up in the face of such challenges and give everyone hope for a better tomorrow, even when we’re experiencing some major difficulties ourselves.

We’re there to help them to be the best version of themselves, largely by being the best version of ourselves. It’s one of the things that makes the job so demanding and so all-encompassing.

But it’s also one of the things that makes it so rewarding. It tests us in every way imaginable and it demands our best efforts and whole personality. Fun, isn’t it?

So what about 2023 then?

The first thing to recognise it there isn’t going to be some magical moment where we return to what came before.

We’re simply not in an interim state where we will, at some point, suddenly snap back to the pre-pandemic world. For most organizations, that world is gone for generations and probably ever. We are where we are and that’s probably where we’ll stay.

That requires us to have in our lockers all the necessary attitudes, responses, skills, approaches and capabilities to deal with this new different in the right way.

So what do we need to ensure we are ready and equipped to support, mentor, develop and enable our teams and people to deliver at their peak in 2023? For me, the key aspects of this new ‘hybrid leadership’ are these:

  1. A clearly articulated vision of the road ahead, the key milestones and the route we plan to follow to reach our goals. It can’t just be wishful thinking or a set of targets
  2. The emotional intelligence and empathy to understand how people are feeling and to recognize the limits of what they can achieve – and to help them stretch those limits with our support and mentoring guidance
  3. The characteristics needed to be a good role model for our people, demonstrating the right mix of attitudes, skills, behaviours and humanity to engage, enable and enthuse people about the way ahead
  4. A balanced understanding of who’s needs we are serving – our map of the web of stakeholders that place expectations on us – recognizing that our people are themselves a key stakeholder – and that without their engagement, best efforts and goodwill we cannot achieve our goals or satisfy anyone else
  5. A clear and accurate understanding of who we are as individual leaders, the shadow we cast over everyone else and the range of choices and alternatives we have to enable us to adapt to context and to best serve our people
  6. A deep professional understanding of the leadership job we have taken on, the skills we possess and need to develop and that we are never, ever the finished article. In such a volatile and fast-changing world, we all need to invest heavily in our own development just to keep up. What’s in your development plan? Are you spending enough time honing your own capabilities? Are you ready to do the job everyone will need you to do in 2023? Few leaders are.
  7. The skills and awareness to understand how best to lead in a hybrid and distributed world and the resilience to cope with the challenges and bounce back
  8. A well-honed radar to recognize when people are really struggling with their well-being and resilience and the skills & tools to respond appropriately

That’s a simple enough and reasonably concise list. It’s probably easy to say to yourself ‘I’ve got all that’. If you really do have all of that absolutely down, I’ll say good for you and well done.

That would probably make you a leadership unicorn.

I’ve been a leader for nearly 50 years and an executive mentor and teacher of leadership for more than 30 of those. I can’t, in all honesty, give a resounding yes to all of those points.

Probably the best I can offer is a rueful smile, a shake of the head and the words ‘well, most of the time’.

Is that going to be enough?

The very large elephant in the room here is ‘legitimate self-confidence’ or, in other words, ‘confidence in your own abilities’. Some people exhibit plenty of ‘interpersonal confidence’, so we think they have everything they need. It could be a consequence of their personality, the result of their social background or education – but it isn’t the same thing as the genuine self-confidence that comes from really knowing you will be equal to any challenge you might face. The trust in yourself that says you’ve been really tested, and proved yourself, to yourself.

So, my call to action for 2023 is to encourage every leader to develop that legitimate self-confidence that comes from knowing you have all these necessary attitudes, responses, skills, approaches and capabilities – and that you trust yourself to do the right thing regardless of the challenges, pressures, obstacles and expectations that fate might throw your way.

If you need help to get there, ask for it. We all need to grow and it doesn’t happen because of a salary or a job title. It is earned.

Photo by Xan White on Unsplash

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