What should we require of our leaders in a post-pandemic professional services business?

In this note I share my thoughts on what I hope leadership can mean at this time, of all times.

These thoughts are based on twenty years of working with the most extraordinary people at all levels in the organisations that I have been lucky enough to serve.

From change projects, to mentoring, to training current and future leaders, I have had the privilege of working all over the world, from Singapore to Johannesburg, and in cities across Europe and North America too. I have seen brilliance and I have witnessed failure. All leaders come and go, but the mark they leave, good or bad, will stay in the memories of those they influence forever.

In a post-pandemic world, leaders have an even bigger responsibility than ever before to do the right thing and to do it well. In this very brief note, I share only the headline thoughts of what I know will be required. The detail is for each leader to create and to embrace.

What to measure: 

1. Measure the difference people make and compare this to the difference you asked them to make.

2. Measure integrity

3. Measure kindness

4. Measure the impact of your leadership on your employees, employee families, shareholders, customers, suppliers and the communities in which you do business.

5. Measure how sustainable your activity is and plan to improve sustainability further.

How to lead: 

6, Be vulnerable, be kind and be clear. Narrate your thinking and invite opinions before you decide things, not to support what you have already decided.

7. Engage continuously and thoughtfully with employees, employee families, shareholders, customers, suppliers and the communities in which you do business.

8. Listen and always acknowledge what you have heard.

9. Highlight your mistakes.

10. Be alive to the possibility of group thinking, and therefore encourage constant challenge, as long as the challenge is in line with the values of your culture.

11. Celebrate the success of how things were achieved, not just what has been achieved.

12. Congratulate your competitors when they do well.

13. Sit with people more, not to share your thoughts or to be validated yourself, but just sit with them to listen.

Practical steps: 

14. Recruit people who exemplify your values and who will help you to build the culture you are creating. Experience and expertise matter of course, but nothing matters more than the values of the people you hire.

15. Where people work matters, whether this is at home or in the office. Therefore, care about their home life, care about their office life, and care about what being part of a team means for them and for you.

16. Invest in the development of potential in all your people at all levels of your organisation. Treat all colleagues (whether interim, temporary, part-time, or permanent) the same. They are not columns on a spreadsheet, but people.

17. Invest in the communities in which you trade – not for headlines, or photo opportunities, but for the difference you can make to the lives of people who live around us.

18. Do not tolerate behaviours that undermine your values.

19. Be explicit about the things that matter and align all rewards with the things that matter

20. Abandon any plan that compromises your values and be as vocal about your actions to stop bad things as much as you are to create good things.

21. Remove any requirement for minimum hours or maximum holiday. Trust your recruitment, trust your values and trust your culture to get the job done.

Change the narrative of success: 

22. Your job is to hand over to your successor a kinder, healthier, happier business.

23. Your job is not too maximise income as an end in itself.

24. Your job is not drive out costs as an end in itself.

25. Your job is to create an environment in which people can thrive in a sustainable way that supports family life and enhances communities.

26. Pay your taxes and celebrate how much you pay.

27. Protect what matters, and challenge anything that is destructive of what matters.

28. Invest in projects that you personally will never see the value from in your tenure as leader. Pay forward for others to know you cared.

29. Be proud of the way you behave.

30. Leave as friends.

And, within all this, leaders must of course champion pay equality, embrace the Black Lives Matter movement, honour diversity in all its forms and unlock potential wherever it can be found. I want every leader to say, “on my watch these things improved”.

The world of work was never just an economic construct. Leadership should never be judged on financial metrics or incentives alone. In the end leadership is the privilege to influence lives; we should relish the opportunity this privilege provides.

Take care. Paul x