Having leadership qualities is a must in today’s ever-changing workplace. Whether or not you run a business, lead a team, or have an important job title, these are irrelevant factors as the modern work economy is becoming less hierarchical and more project-based. Greater value is placed upon producing results and less value is placed upon workplace tenure.
All this to say that the modern professional must take increased ownership over his or her own career and workplace development. The pandemic has also shaped the workplace to become more amorphous and ambiguous, which threatens the traditional working habits to which many of us are accustomed. With new working environments comes the need to establish new working styles. Areas with the biggest potential impact come in demonstrating personal leadership in the following ways:
Take the lead in communication
It is easy to fall into the mentality where, as employees, we wait for our marching orders from our superiors. The old adage “no news is good news” can be the kiss of death for the modern workforce — remote teams that span multiple geographies, time zones and work schedules. Without the benefit of close physical proximity, communication is more important than ever. And that communication shouldn’t always be top-down.
An employee should take the lead in regularly communicating upwards — alerting team members and superiors of work progress, providing his/her own perspectives on decisions, signaling potential problems, clarifying work requests, etc. Communication in today’s working teams may look different than what was done traditionally. Instead of weekly full-hour meetings, it may be multiple “check-ins” throughout the week. In addition to formal conference calls, it could be short individual email or text updates. Communication style can be adjusted based on each team’s preferences. But when an employee assumes a leadership role in managing his/her own communication, the entire team benefits by being able to stay abreast of status updates, get wind of upcoming problems, and minimize surprises and bottlenecks.
Take the lead in setting boundaries
For the better part of a year now, many of us have been facing a dilemma in that “Work” and “Life” are merging. With the myriad of communication apps and juggling more flexible schedules, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to delineate between working time and personal time. Each employee needs to define those boundaries in order to maintain job satisfaction and avoid burnout.
This is an area where team leaders and team members must work together, but each person should take the lead in helping his or her team define those boundaries. The most basic boundary would relate to working hours — when an employee is and is not expected to be available for work. Another boundary can relate to how emergency requests should be handled and prioritized. Boundaries can also relate to the technology that the team will use primarily, as it may not be realistic to be monitoring all emails, Microsoft Team pings, Skype, Slack and text at all times.
If employees are proficient in providing timely updates to their team, boundary-setting becomes much easier. Boundary setting tends to fail when it compromises important deadlines for the organization, or when unanticipated challenges arise. So in defining our personal and professional boundaries, we should also take care in making sure we are meeting deadlines and delivering upon our assigned work.
Take the lead in learning and exploration
The world is changing so fast. Hard skills that were “cutting edge” even three to five years ago are now commonplace and can even be on track to become obsolete. Each employee should aim to continually learn new things so that new skills can be added to the career toolbox. In any transformation environment, the top challenge executives consistently face is the need to upgrade talent. While some may automatically interpret this as bringing in new employees, the reality is that hiring from the outside is always more time-consuming, more expensive, and riskier than investing in existing employees. So do not forgo opportunities to take classes, acquire knowledge, learn new technology, whether or not your organization expressly offers the opportunity to do so.
Take the lead in adopting new technologies
This can be around examining ways to make the current environment more efficient and communication friendly, such as leveraging software dashboards, email alerts, and such so that communication around certain processes gets done via software automatically. According to a recent Gartner survey1, 66% of CFOs expect to spend more in implementing workflow automation technology in Finance in 2021. So rest assured that this mindset is shared with upper management.
An organization’s most valuable assets are its employees. When employees take the lead in communication, setting boundaries and exploring new knowledge, it ensures that the organization continues to evolve with the times without being left in the dust to trail after its competitors.