The current crisis has shown what is possible when organisations are forced to make big decisions quickly. Along with more strategic challenges, such as pivoting business models, they have had to revisit their softer skills and ask themselves whether they have a leadership style that is fit for the future. 
At Criticaleye’s first virtual Asia Leadership Forum, delegates examined what the pandemic has meant for the new future of work and how they are adapting as leaders. 
Ivan Ng, Chief Technology Officer of global real estate company City Developments Ltd, told the Forum that COVID is a burning platform that is compelling business leaders to be creative and work differently. 
“The option of not changing has been removed. The compressed timeline is forcing a lot of change to happen all at once, and this is where technology leaders can really step up to partner with the business. Technology is now integrated across the whole business. It is not a separate function anymore, such as where the responsibility for ‘technology’ was typically siloed,” he said.  
Increasing digitalisation of business models was a theme running through the Forum. “The situation has enabled us to quickly simplify a lot of processes and automate many things,” Ivan said. “Robotic process automation has been a buzzword for a long time and people were saying, ‘I have all the people, do I need this?’ That’s shifted now, as when your people can’t go to the office then RPA really works.” 
Wasil Haroon, Senior Relationship Manager at Criticaleye, said: “The world has shifted dramatically in a matter of months and although it’s been forced on them, the best organisations have shown they can react at pace to implement tech solutions and lead their newly dispersed and virtual workforces.” 
Reflecting on how you lead 
There are clear signs of new skills coming to the fore. Melissa Ries, Vice President of IT Transformation Sales for Asia Pacific Japan at ServiceNow, explained: “Before COVID we were seeing soft skills as a big theme in terms of people trying to develop them so they can be agile, collaborative and innovative.” 
Stephen Koss, Partner and Asia Pacific Workforce Advisory Leader at EY, agreed. “Many of the skills that leaders need now have traditionally been considered ‘soft skills’. I think an important ‘soft skill’ that we’re seeing, for example, is clarity of mind.  
“We have a mindfulness practice in our firm and this group has been run off its feet recently – it’s being offered as a key skill, because there is so much concern about the future and that seems to be detracting from people taking good decisions in the here and now.” 
Rani Koya, former Chief Petroleum Engineer at Tullow Oil reflected on how traditional leadership development had prioritised process and performance-based tasks, and in particular, getting the most out of your people without necessarily asking how that could best be achieved. Things are changing.  
“I see… that being turned on its head with a lot of training about how you are vulnerable, how you make authentic contact, and how you demonstrate and expound the values that you hold,” Rani said. 
“That’s now the starting point of leadership. The conversation needs to develop this way, because people are going to become increasingly disconnected from each other, particularly if the current virtual working continues.” 
For Melissa, leadership is not about command and control. “What resonates… today is something more subtle – a sense of purpose and that authentic leadership when you’re connecting with people,” she said.
Anika Grant, Global HR Director for Markets at Dyson Operations Pte. Ltd, asserted there has been a fundamental shift in thinking about how organisations develop leaders post-COVID. “Empathy has become a major factor and [so has] how you become an inclusive leader. I think they are becoming two absolute must-haves over and above some of the previously perceived ‘core competencies’ of leadership,” she said. 
Video conferencing is now ubiquitous, so much so that the relationship between leaders and employees has changed, with boundaries blurring between work and home. This has had a profound effect, Anika said. 
“You can’t ignore what’s happening in people’s lives outside of work anymore. This is a human element of leadership that many senior executives have not experienced before – up to now, their conversations tended to stay within the realms of what needed to be done that day, week or month.” 
Now those discussions are wider ranging. “People’s mental health and wellbeing was not a conversation you would typically have with leadership. Now we’re running weekly sessions, resilience webinars, sessions for remote teams to connect, bringing in external advisors, and coaching team leaders to have discussions. This has really been accelerated,” Anika said. 
Wasil believes that few executives will emerge from 2020 unchanged. “Speaking to business leaders, it’s clear that some have acclimatised to the new world – and adapted their own styles accordingly – but they are going to be tested harder through the coming global recession. Their leadership skills will be under greater scrutiny, so they should take time to reflect on their approach,” he said. 
David Hobbs, Senior Editor, Criticaleye 
The next Community Update will examine the results of Criticaleye’s CEO Research 2020.