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July | Leadership Development | Read time: calculating...

Global change triggers leadership revolution

Leadership styles have changed significantly in recent years, accelerated by COVID-19 and giving rise to the “imperfect” leader.


“In years to come, people will talk about COVID-19 and the impact it has had on how we work in a similar way to how people reflect on the industrial revolution and World War Two,” explains Keogh’s Senior Consultant, Lorena Clayton.

Leadership styles have been evolving for some time, but there is no doubt the global pandemic has accelerated the pace of change. Society’s expectations have changed and so too has employees’ expectations of their leaders.

“People just won’t accept the old leader centric model where the leader made all of the decisions and all of the power rested on their shoulders,” explains Ms Clayton.

Ms Clayton, an organisational psychologist who has worked in senior human resources leadership roles for more than 25 years, says we are now seeing the rise of the “imperfect leader”.

“These are leaders who are not afraid to be vulnerable, who don’t feel like they need to have all the answers and aren’t afraid to ask for input from their employees. They actively listen and make meaningful connections and understand that sharing vulnerability is a strength.”

As Ms Clayton explains, an increasing number of leaders are embracing this style of leadership.

“It’s not universal though and changes are happening in different companies and countries at a difference pace. Cultural differences play a part as well,” she said.

“In some organisations there will still be leaders with a traditional view of leadership – of being the boss and not questioning their decisions, but changes are happening.”

Keogh Consulting’s Future 5 leadership model champions the key traits of effective business leaders, personifying them as the ‘superheroes’ of leadership best practice.

“Effective leaders are inclusive,” Ms Clayton said.

“They make sure they are capturing diversity in their team and understand that they can make much better decisions when they have diverse views, rather than a homogenous group of people all in agreeance with one another.”

With diversity comes better leadership decisions.

“People should feel included and heard, appreciated and listened too and this extends to suppliers and customers,” she explained.

“Teams tend to be more successful when people have a certain level of autonomy.

“This is about considering where individuals work best, but also what is best for the team and their needs, which can change often.”

This might mean implementing and managing hybrid business model – working from home to find space for deep thinking without distractions and coming into the office to workshop ideas with your colleagues.

Of course, the hybrid model doesn’t work for some industries and organisations where the type of work they do can’t be done remotely.

“Regardless of where they work, the more leaders can empower their employees and give them ownership and a feeling of self-efficacy, the better they will ultimately perform.”

Keogh’s Future 5 model also highlights the rise of the “responsible” leader.

“There is an expectation now for leaders to be more responsible in terms of environmental and social issues. People don’t want to work for leaders anymore if they aren’t genuine and really demonstrating these values,” Ms Clayton explained.

She said it was equally important for leaders to focus on crafting their leadership skills as well as their technical expertise.

“Leadership is a unique skill. Often in the past businesses have just promoted their most technically skilled people into leadership roles.”

With a skills shortage playing out across the country, being an effective leader is more critical than ever.

“We talk to a lot of organisations that are really struggling to get talent. Employees these days have a very different expectation of what behaviours their leaders should be demonstrating and their tolerance for poor leadership behaviour has really decreased.”

As Ms Clayton explains, having an engaged, empathetic, and inclusive leader at the helm can be extremely beneficial for a team and a company.

“There have been a lot of studies done which show that organisations then benefit from better employee engagement, and they also perform better,” she said.

“The pace of change is so much faster now.  Successful leaders must have the vision to be agile and resilient, create resilient organisations and embrace change.”