Even before the advent of the global pandemic necessitated a rethink of leadership models, the world of work managed by the old Newtonian paradigm which views people and organisations like machines (a collection of discrete parts) capable of operating with stability, controllable certainty and predictability were seen as unfit for purpose. This paradigm is largely responsible for many problems in organisations including low levels of engagement, productivity, performance, innovation, and bottom-line profit.
The inadequacy of this old approach to managing and leading organisations has been augmented by the pandemic, where we have been propelled to a quantum age, requiring resilience, agility, adaptability and courage to make bold decisions to survive and thrive in this new volatile, complex and unpredictable world. In the quantum age, this complex and chaotic world is around us, inside our organisations as well as inside our bodies and minds.
The quantum paradigm requires a new type of leadership, many leaders need to reinvent themselves, to think, do and be in a new way. Quantum leaders know how to nurture creativity in times of uncertainty and instability by creating caring and collaborative cultures. They can envision many possible outcomes of a situation and explore various options with widespread input from others. They create interconnected networks, foster collaboration, and provide autonomy for employees to make decisions based on their knowledge, rather than a formal position in organisational hierarchy. They enable inclusive communication and allow self-organisation in communities of passion.
Quantum leaders can have different perspectives on reality, they are able to replace command and control with a more subtle intuitive perception of any situation that can unleash the creative potential of uncertainty. These leaders lead from the head, heart and gut.
This type of leadership corresponds to Levels 4/5 of The Management Shift framework. The framework shows 5 Levels of an individual mindset and corresponding organisational culture. Each level is characterised by specific thinking patterns, behaviour, language used, leadership style and organisational outcomes. At Level 1 a dominant mindset is ‘Lifeless’; culture is based on fear and employees are isolated and disengaged. At Level 2 the individual mindset is ‘Reluctant’, and people do the minimum they can get away with, there is a blame culture, and employees feel overwhelmed. At Level 3 the mindset is ‘Controlled’. Leadership style is based on traditional command and control, employees are micromanaged, and they do what they are told to do. At Level 4 a dominant mindset becomes ‘Enthusiastic’ and there is a strong teamwork ethos. Collaboration, integrity, purpose, transparency, accountability, and caring culture are embedded in this level. This is the level where the ‘Big Shift’ happens and where highly engaged and inventive performance begins. At Level 5 mindset becomes ‘Limitless’ and anything seems to be possible to achieve; this is where amazing innovations are developed and big problems for humanity are solved.
The need for this ‘Big Shift’ to Levels 4 and 5 of The Management Shift framework has been accelerated by pandemic. The global economy has been left in a fragile state following lockdown measures, many of which have been prolonged at the time of writing this article, leaving further uncertainty on how businesses will recover. What is certain, however, is that business leaders must adapt and recalibrate to survive and thrive in the post-pandemic world.
Responses by leaders to pandemic seem to be sharply polarized. Some are going to great lengths to make staff welfare a priority. Regrettably, many others are managing only for the short-term – cutting jobs and costs, maximizing government support. Astute leaders know that to look after staff in a crisis is to create a powerful asset for recovery. They understand the importance of emotional as well as economic recovery – and that the two are intimately linked. Team members who were supported by their leaders through a period of insecurity and fear will redouble their efforts once recovery begins. This is the essence of new leadership required for recovery. The business world is crying out for courageous and compassionate leadership, to guide us out of the current state of fear. Leaders need to create hope and provide compassion. For many, this task is intuitive and obvious – the challenge lies in understanding how our every behaviour affects this shift. Not all leaders possess the self-awareness necessary.
So what leadership style and organisational culture are needed for the new ways of working in the post-pandemic world? What values will drive recovery process? And how do we develop agility and resilience to thrive in uncertainty? Traditional, bureaucratic leaders won’t find the answers to these questions unless they change their leadership strategies; the world has changed, and they must too.
Insights from both pre-pandemic research and practice as well as the latest research to help leaders navigate in the new world provide some answers to these questions.
For leaders to successfully change their leadership style to one relevant to the new quantum world they need a blueprint. The new 8Cs Model for Quantum Leadership is a blueprint for leading in a post covid world based on more than 25 years of interdisciplinary research in the areas of behavioural science, computer science, economics, neuroscience etc. which lead to the development of The Management Shift framework as well as research obtained from interviews with 58 CEOs/senior leaders (captured in Humane Capital book) complemented by new research undertaken during pandemic in 2020.
The model captures 8 key areas leaders need to focus on/demonstrate in order to lead organisations successfully in this new world. This article outlines four of these key areas: Clarity, Candour, Calmness and Compassion.
Clarity not only needs to be conveyed in clear messaging, but also values and purpose. Leaders should ask ‘where is the organisation going?’, and ‘what is the higher purpose of this organisation?’, ‘How can we serve the world’? It is important to be aware of the bigger picture and finding meaning in the chaos. Where does the organisation fit in this new world and what strategies will enable it to succeed? Every leader should look at how they can make their organisation a force for good in the new society. The quantum worldview focuses on the meaning and a sense of purpose, and by default, organisations should be able to do good and do well at the same time.
Leaders must show honesty, openness, and trustworthiness to everyone in the organisation. In the age of social media, authenticity can be easily exposed so transparency needs to be practised authentically. If a leader practices what they preach, others will be inspired to follow. If the leader is perceived as an authentic person who walks the talk, trust will be established which will lead to increased loyalty from employees. Candour will create phycological safety which will have positive impact on performance, engagement, and profit.
Moving away from fear and worry is crucial. Calmness transcends in ripples and can impact emotional intelligence as well as social intelligence that impacts people around leaders. Research by Goleman and Boyatzis showed that when leaders express emotional/social intelligence they affect the brain chemistry of the people around them. This has been shown to work both face-to-face and when working remotely. As humans, with our mirror neuron brain cells, we pick up the emotions and moods of the people around us and emulate them. When leaders stay calm in the moments of crisis, this will instil courage and invoke feelings of serenity in employees too.
Humane, quantum leadership will offer a new competitive advantage. Leaders operating using transactional and authoritative leadership of the old paradigm will be obsolete. Companies will not survive without humane leadership that expresses empathy, kindness, and love. Leaders showing genuine compassion for the organisation, the people who work in it, and the wider society, will thrive in the post-pandemic world. Positive energy will also create phycological safety for all employees.
Overall, a good leader fit to lead in this new emerging quantum world will pay attention to all these areas to cultivate an organisation that will survive and thrive in the post-pandemic world. Embracing and practising all areas will help leaders to create the foundations for a new paradigm that will be needed in this new era we are entering.
The behaviour of a leadership team has a ripple effect, felt first by employees and then more widely. This can be demonstrated both through employee engagement surveys and at the level of neuroscience. Our conduct and emotions are all infectious to the people around us. If we prioritize fair treatment, clear communication, and employee welfare, we build a healthy culture that becomes a powerful commercial asset. If we prioritize cost-cutting, neglect of individuals and short-term targets, then commitment will dip, potentially imperilling any recovery.
It is time now to set the path to recovery and leaders have a choice: continue to use outdated leadership approaches detrimental for performance, slash costs and neglect individuals, or seize the opportunity to create an inspirational organisation with humane quantum leadership.
About the Author
Vlatka Hlupic is a Professor of Leadership and Management at Hult Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School. She is the founder and CEO of the training, coaching and consultancy firm Management Shift Solutions Limited as well as the author of The Management Shift and Humane Capital.