During the pandemic, CEOs who have been able to quickly take the right steps to maintain a strong leadership presence and provide clear direction fared far better than those who floundered and paused. Several priorities have emerged as essential to high-performance leadership in a business world marked by constant change, disruption and challenge. While these actions have been taken out of necessity, they are now vital components of every high-performing CEO’s leadership toolbox.
Priority #1: Quickly build trust throughout the organisation
Leaders who were able to quickly organise employees around an ‘all hands-on deck’ approach to confronting the crisis were able to get back on track faster. The art of successful delegation became more critical than ever before so that leaders were freed up to focus on big-picture items, such as strategy, culture and innovation. This worked extremely well when leaders established clear goals for their organisations and the role each person would play in reaching them. Employees want ownership — they want to be able to take on more challenges and responsibility. Employees are on the front lines and know firsthand the ins and outs of the business, the clients and the challenges. CEOs who rely on those around them to find solutions build automatic trust among their teams.
Those executives who can’t let go and delegate tend to lose the support of their teams because they are basically telling their teams they don’t trust them. Trust grows when leaders give employees room to use their expertise and creativity, especially when new ways of thinking and operating are critical to everyone’s success.
Leaders develop trust successfully also by valuing transparency and vulnerability. A CEO who thinks they must have all the answers — or else appear weak — is not setting themselves up for success. Great leaders create an open environment where their teams can solve problems together, learn together and celebrate success together.
Priority #2: Double-down on culture
Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been amazed to hear the stories of leaders who refused to quit. Their business and people were too important to them. If determination and perseverance aren’t a fundamental part of the DNA of a company’s culture before a crisis, that’s not something that can be suddenly turned on when things get tough. Culture is built over time, and tying culture to mission, vision, purpose and values has proven to be a critical success factor.
CEOs nurture strong cultures through their own commitment, transparency and flexibility. Culture can set you apart and make customers proud to work with you. Creating a world-class culture also means staying close to important stakeholders — customers and employees. When leaders trust and take care of their team, and let the team take care of the customers, the rest takes care of itself.
Priority #3: Embrace diversity of thought
To effectively manage through ongoing change and disruption, high-performing leaders must also continue to challenge their thinking with fresh perspectives. Diversity of thought — and of talent — is the spark that can continue to ignite a company’s growth, help prepare for the future and manage the unexpected. When CEOs make a deliberate effort to bring people together with diverse backgrounds, cultures, experiences and roles, they can tap into new ways of thinking.
Another inherent benefit of building a diverse workforce is increased resiliency. Resiliency, which has become a pandemic-era buzzword, has also become essential for successful leadership following the pandemic. Fostering a resilient workforce is an invaluable investment in the organisation’s ability to bounce back quickly from hardships, challenges, crises and adversity.
High-performing leaders constantly review, refine and reinvent
The challenges of the last 18 months have caused leaders to rethink their priorities and decisions. Now more than ever, disciplined leaders regularly assess their performance — what they are doing well, what needs tweaking and what new skills they need to acquire based on changing conditions and challenges. The ability to constantly learn, grow and adapt is another critical ‘tool’ that high-performing leaders have in their toolboxes today.