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How the Pandemic Exposed the Need for Timeless Leadership Values

I’ve read a good bit lately about how the pandemic has changed what employees want from their leaders and therefore changed the approach leaders need to take with their employees. In reality, the wants of employees and the needed approach by leaders hasn’t changed; the pandemic has only brought those things into the light.

Frankly, the trend toward more human-centered leadership has been around for decades.

Consider this quote as Exhibit A: “In the years ahead, executives must wake up to the fact that the very interpersonal skills of consensus building, mediating, moderating, and dealing effectively with people — skills that studies and surveys have historically identified as predominant in women — are the building blocks of a post-industrial society. It’s the management of people and not the management of machinery or material that will be crucial.”

That comes from a 1983 speech by Elizabeth Dole when she was Secretary of Transportation. And while part of her point was that women are uniquely gifted in the skills needed for modern leadership, a good many men have also seen the value of honing those same skills.

In Transfluence, I make the case that there are some timeless values and principles that apply to the challenges and opportunities of modern leadership. The pandemic has simply presented us with some new challenges and opportunities to apply those values and principles.

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For instance, one of those values is heart, which is all about seeing and treating people as human beings. The pandemic has been a shared struggle, while opening (Zoom) windows into our personal lives that have allowed us to get to know each other in some very different ways. The reality has hit home that we are all human and all have lives with ups and downs, cats, dogs, and kids. And that has changed some things in the leaders/employee dynamic.

In a recent discussion about how the pandemic is reshaping the roles leaders play, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins pointed out that, “Employees don’t want to be employees, they don’t want to work for managers and they don’t want to work for executives. They want to be human beings who work for other human beings. And I think authenticity and the importance of being human, understanding the things they’re dealing with as humans, and building that into how you approach them in your day-to-day work with them, is so important.”

I don’t know Robbins, but I must respectfully disagree with how he stated his case in the first sentence of that quote. I believe most employees understand that different people in an organization have distinct roles. They also want their leaders to provide vision, boundaries, and direction. And they, in fact, do want to work for managers and executives — those with a heart, that is.

The 3H-Core — honesty, heart, and humility — have always been qualities employees would like to see in their leaders. Leading with them has proven to be effective for generations and it has become increasingly important over the last 30 years. The pandemic has made those realities more apparent and, thankfully, more and more leaders are now getting on board. It’s never too late.

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