New-Style Business Leaders Will Emerge after the Pandemic
By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Dean, School of Business, American Public University
What do we see occurring in our country as we work together to weather the storm of the coronavirus pandemic known as COVID-19?
Given the work that I have done throughout my life, I have often thought about what would occur and how would we as a nation respond if we experienced a true crisis. Unfortunately, I thought some businesses would struggle because their leaders have led only during good times. We tend to promote people who have had some successes or fit the mold of someone we believe should be in leadership.
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But if we look at leadership development initiatives, we become frustrated by what we have been doing. We are uncertain how we could adequately prepare our leadership teams to steer our organizations through change and produce innovative ideas to grow those organizations afterward.
Although these are scary times, “There is an opportunity to build and develop the leaders for the future.” We have the opportunity to build and develop the leaders for the future. Everyone interested in becoming a leader has the opportunity to experience “on the job training” and help guide establishments with a new way of thinking to survive and prosper.
Using Myers-Briggs Profiles to Identify Leaders and Teams
When I taught, I had an icebreaker exercise using the Myers-Briggs Profile or a Learning Style Inventory. Students loved the exercise. For many students, it was fun because they had the opportunity to learn more about themselves and their preferred style of processing things. They also learned more about their peers in class.
After completing the first exercise, I turned the tables on them by adding a couple of steps for them to process. First, I gave them the opportunity to create teams. Otherwise, I would assign them to teams using their profiles to create diverse groups based on the outcomes of the inventory.
Next, I would allow them to develop a charter (or agreement), which provided information and timelines outlining how they would complete certain tasks. I wanted to know how they would deliver. I never assigned a leader because I wanted to see if someone would emerge, or if they would agree to a form of co-leadership.
In almost every scenario, a conflict or chaos situation would arise, sometime even before the halfway point in the class. I posed the question, “What did you learn from the profiles to assist you with resolving the conflict?”
Most teams were able to resolve the situation without my intervention, which was the desired result. The successful teams also realized that they could use the inventories to regain stability.
Instead of looking at what they had in common, they looked at each member’s strengths and weaknesses. Also, they explored the types of situations and events that could cause a person to become anxious during abnormal times.
After the “experiment,” I would share my experiences growing as a leader. I went through this type of exercise. My Myers-Briggs profile is ENFP (Extraverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Perceiving). Based on summaries, I am considered a “creative idealist.” Eight percent of the general population and more females than males have this profile.
Some of the traits of an ENFP are enthusiasm, idealistic, open-minded, broad-ranging interests, versatile, and works well with people and ideas. We are novelty seekers continually looking for new and exciting people, ideas, and possibilities. We have fun!
My Challenges Are Restlessness as Well as Fear of Boredom and Stagnation
Some of my challenges are restlessness as well as fear of boredom and stagnation. I have to be careful with teammates who are structured and struggle with thinking in the abstract. I can drive those types crazy, but I understand the value of having them on my team.
Over the years, I have learned that my leadership style works best in organizations that consider themselves to be movers and shakers. I work best with supervisors who have an abstract vision and want it implemented. My job has always been to take that vision and run with it. I don’t need a lot of detail because I seek to create a diverse team that will help me.
I try to assess their individual strengths and put them in a position to perform tasks that align with the areas in which they excel. I will use my skill set to assist them develop the areas in which they are weakest. I am their safety net and backup. I assure them that failure is okay because I will be there to pick up the shortfall. This type of approach develops trust.
Creating Business Leaders
As we set out to develop and implement new ways to grow the business, we are ready for obstacles. We know how to function during chaotic times because we have trained ourselves to be focused on the result.
Why would this approach of leadership not work in some organizations? Because some leaders:
- Don’t like change and want to keep activities as they always have been.
- Are more comfortable with emerging leaders who are mirror images of themselves, which could create a “groupthink” culture.
- Have built their success on their accomplishments, and are not prepared to lead an organization when chaos occurs or when events occur outside their comfort zone and/or experience. What they have done in the past may not work in the future; times change.
- Are operational and do not develop strategies to address potential situations that may occur. They cannot see beyond what is in front of them. Therefore, they struggle with developing a Plan B. They assume their plan of action will be successful because of past experiences.
When I look at some of the companies that have decided to institute widespread layoffs during this global pandemic, I see organizations that were led by leaders who did not have that Plan B. No thought was given to a chaotic situation that would shake the very foundation on which those companies were built. Their leaders had no control over external factors, and they chose to react in an ad hoc fashion to what is occurring now.
We have never had an event shake us the way that the deadly coronavirus pandemic has. Almost every sector and industry has been affected.
I believe that a new leadership style is going to emerge as a result of this worldwide challenge. New modes of thinking will arise. Ideas that were once thought to be unrealistic (i.e., remote work, a form of holacracy, team leadership) will become acceptable in industries that are willing to be innovative and try new things.
There will be no room for the status quo. We will go back to business as usual after this pandemic. Those emerging businesses and leaders will embrace a new way of thinking, and they will be the next generation of innovative leaders.
About the Author
Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Dean of the School of Business at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist, and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.
Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and influential leader, manifesting people skills, a systematic approach to problems, organizational vision, and the ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service, and the development of future leaders.
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