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Developing Leadership In The Fractured Post-COVID World

By Mostafa Sayyadi

As we start to move into the post-pandemic world, there is a critical question around how a company’s characteristics impact leadership development. Business literature, to date, has failed to provide a comprehensive framework that incorporates all of the internal resources that may simultaneously impact leadership development. What’s more, there is a gap in the literature when it comes to examining the implications of structure, culture, strategy, inter-company social networks and stakeholder orientation for leadership development.

With this in mind, I conducted research with 48 executives in North America, across a range of industries, to better understand the factors influencing leadership development. Many agreed that while leadership development has become a focal point for their organisation, it has not been aligned closely enough with internal resources to enable it to drive the organisation’s success. Following my discussions – which took the form of telephone interviews – I found that leadership development is heavily influenced by the characteristics of organisations themselves. My key learnings are as follows:

1. Corporate structure

Leaders seek to inspire their followers to generate new solutions and create a better environment. The executives I spoke to suggested that a highly centralised structure has a negative impact on creative leadership, however, while decentralisation positively contributes to leaders developing a more innovative milieu. Decentralised structures play a crucial role when it comes to facilitating the exchange of ideas and the implementation of more innovative solutions. This is because they empower decision-making at all levels of the organisation. Highly formalised structures are also more bureaucratic, which hinders the development of leadership that aims to transform existing situations and build a better environment.

2. Corporate Culture

When I asked the executives how corporate culture can work best for them, they argued that trust is an important component of a collaborative culture. This is because it helps to develop and maintain organisational communication. From a cultural perspective, collaboration and trust are both critical aspects of leadership development, since they help leaders to develop relationships with their subordinates. A leader’s ability to build a more innovative environment is also highly dependent on the extent to which their subordinates trust them. Hence a corporate culture that instils trust in subordinates enables leaders because it mobilises their followers’ support for the leadership vision. Distrust, on the other hand, impairs leadership development.

3. Corporate Strategy

Another priority for executives was corporate strategy, encompassing analysis, defensiveness, proactiveness and planning for the future. Analysis aims is to find the best solution for solving corporate problems or achieving objectives through the assessment of various options. Future planning contributes to a leader’s ability to develop a more future-oriented vision for their organisation. I asked the executives how they felt about these two approaches. They responded that the strategic aspects of both analysis and future planning may have a positive impact on leadership development. In fact, these approaches help executives to develop a shared long-term vision for the future. Moreover, analysis creates more knowledge, which can improve leadership effectiveness through generating innovative solutions to address both organisational problems and strategic development. Every executive I spoke to mentioned that leaders’ effectiveness is improved when they take a proactive approach that searches out better strategic initiatives in the business environment. Thus, corporate strategy is positively related to leadership development.

4. Inter-company social networks

The executives stated that inter-company social networks (social networks that include peers within different organisations) improve leadership effectiveness by nurturing a more innovative environment. They argued that inter-company social networks positively influence leaders’ views, and encourage them to further develop their relationships with their subordinates. They also noted that inter-company social networks can positively contribute to leaders effectively empowering their followers. This may be due to companies that encourage inter-company social networks also tending to be more capable when it comes to promoting effective learning.

5. Stakeholder orientation

Stakeholder orientation is another important aspect of leadership development in the post-Covid-19 world. By definition, stakeholder orientation encourages leaders to adopt a more comprehensive vision that incorporates stakeholders’ attitudes. Also, when leaders have stakeholder orientation, they can propel knowledge exchange with stakeholders themselves. The executives argued that a higher degree of innovation results when organisations exchange more knowledge with various groups, including stakeholders. At the same time, the exchange of knowledge can have a strong influence on learning within organisations. Knowledge exchanged with various stakeholders may help leaders to identify better opportunities in the current business environment.

Mitigating the impact of Covid-19

Leadership development can help companies to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their businesses by producing leaders who innovate and empower their teams. My research with executives in North America provides some insights into how leadership development can be affected by organisational characteristics. These characteristics include structure, culture, strategy, inter-company social networks and stakeholder orientation.

Mostafa Sayyadi works with senior business leaders to effectively develop innovation in companies, and helps companies—from start-ups to the Fortune 100—succeed by improving the effectiveness of their leaders. He is a business book author and a long-time contributor to business publications and his work has been featured in top-flight business publications.