Signals that Leadership & Development will look different in 2022

HR Strategy

Anyone who has ever set a New Year’s resolution knows there’s nothing magical about the 31st of December.

Commitments to drink less, save more or exercise harder, are just as difficult to keep on the 1st of January as they were the day before. It’s an almost sweet, naïve hopefulness, that we continue to lay so much expectation on a man-made marker in the vast continuum of time!

So, while the world understandably counts down to a brighter 2022 (hopefully), it almost certainly won’t bring the clarity and certainty we desire.

With so much still evolving, it’s a mistake to leap to radical change, and why Executive Team Coach and Founder of The Karuna Collective, Peta Karunaratne, believes sensemaking is one of the Top 10 Leadership Skills for 2022.

Over virtual Friday morning coffees, Peta has been hosting UNLEARNING – a series of sensemaking sessions aimed at understanding how people’s relationship with work, leadership and organisations, is changing. In the latest session, participants explored what people need from leadership in these volatile and uncertain times.

Below, we explore three tension points that arose, signalling change for the way in which we lead and develop our people in 2022.

Signal of Change 1 – With our powers combined…

Then: They look to me to lead.

Now: They seek each other out for leadership (collective approach).

With hindsight, we now know that the organisations (and countries) that performed best during the pandemic, took a collaborative approach to the challenges that just kept coming.

This, Peta believes, has been one of the most significant learnings of past 20 months: “The trope of the heroic leader riding in to save the day is obsolete.”

The advantages of the conventional command-and-control model was in the quick and streamlined approach where decisions are made by the handful ‘in charge’.

“The last thing we need now is individual heroes working from their place of expertise, their perspective of what is right or wrong.”

“The last thing we need now is individual heroes working from their place of expertise, their perspective of what is right or wrong,” explains Peta, “This only works within a relatively steady-state, where outcomes are predictable.”

In an ever changing and emergent VUCA context, people had to work together, beyond existing structural and role-based expectations, to navigate (not solve) challenges, creating a new framework where teams, not individuals, are the focus.

In this environment, interconnectivity, sense of belonging, level of collective development and dedication to self-reflection, determined whether organisations flourished or floundered, not the great hero leader.

Even before COVID, organisations were shifting towards flatter structures, agile methodologies and cross-functional teams for rolling out more adaptive programs of work.

“The pandemic just pushed us faster and further from hierarchical power structures, towards more flexible models that allow for collective leadership,” Peta explains.

The new reality is that leaders must use ideas from inside and outside the company to understand, appreciate, respond the enormity of changes that will likely continue coming.

Expect leadership in 2022 to be more incremental and more collectivist: “It’s about learning from others and having the vulnerability to not be the expert in the room, but rather be the one with the most powerful questions that open up the conversation to unexplored possibilities.”

Signal of Change 2 – Remember ‘BCC Dad’?

Then: They looked to us for stability and clarity.   

Now: They search for vulnerability and humanity in us.  

As we transition back to the workplace, people are questioning if the physical relocation necessitates a return to old ways of thinking and working: Why do I need to wear a suit to do my job effectively? My kids finish school at 3:30pm, I prefer to start early, so why can’t I be there to pick them up? Do I need to go into the office at all?

And while some organisations have leapt to radical change, others remain resistant. After all, the need to protect, perfect and control is deeply embedded in the leadership frameworks that have turned out generations of corporate rising stars.

Peta believes the mindset shift is significant: “This is a change from I can, I know, I do, I predict to I sense, I feel, I’m not sure.”  Not all leaders will be able to make the transition, but those that do, will surely fare better in the renewed War for Talent.

Nearly five years ago, a meme went viral: Professor Robert Kelly, forever immortalised as ‘BBC Dad’, was interrupted by his kids during a live broadcast interview.

At the time, the situation seemed wholly unique but today, we are all BBC Dad.

As carefully curated work-personas crumbled, we finally began to interact on a more human, more vulnerable level.

Over lockdown Zoom calls, we saw the lives of our leaders, and each other, in all their messy glory. We witnessed leaders unsure over what to do next; we watched business plans unravel overnight; and we met kids, partners and pets. As our carefully curated work-personas crumbled, we finally began to interact on a more human, more vulnerable level.

Signal of Change 3 – Ask better questions

Then: They looked to us for knowledge.  

Now: They encounter experiences and create meaning.        

As decades-old HR frameworks collapse, People & Culture teams are being pushed to rethink everything from team structures, leadership & development programs, recruitment frameworks, promotion pathways and succession plans.

To develop more responsive and collaborative people, Peta believes we’ll need upskill our people in questioning techniques, deep listening, pattern making and experimentation.

This requires People & Culture teams to work closely with the business to identify specific knowledge, capability and experiences missing in the organisation, and proactively source talent to address those gaps – or develop it internally.

Rather than sending rising stars on classroom or online courses where models and worksheets are core to the experience, expect development programs to focus on cultivating hyper self-awareness to the situation and each other: “In 2022, Leadership & Development facilitators and team leaders will need to coach for learning in the moment, then facilitate team conversations around what we are learning,” explains Peta.

“This process of sensemaking requires us to first acknowledge the ‘newness’ of the experience and situation, then sense what it means for broader system dynamics, rather than immediately reacting.”

Peta suggests a good place to start is by looking for where knowledge is emerging, identifying those projects, teams and platforms where learning and expertise seem to be springing up now.

“Collective leadership skills are not built in the classroom, but through the work itself, so it’s about uncovering how we create more powerful experiences for our people,” says Peta.

Not another COVID reactive strategy!

Burnout is expected to fuel high turnover in 2022, and Unlearning participants agree their people are in a deep state of exhaustion at this point in the year.

“This is not the time to roll out a new COVID response, or inundate inboxes with online surveys, restructure announcements or major policy shifts,” warns Peta.

Peta does believe, however, that now is the ideal time to start a conversation about what people truly value, precisely because frustration and exhaustion help to uncover ‘new needs’.

Armed with our deeper understanding and appreciation of vulnerability, this is a critical moment for respecting and modelling the interconnectivity of life and work, and the fluidity between the two.

Being challenged to reimagine Leadership & Development in 2022?

If you’re being challenged to rethink your organisation’s approach to leadership and development in 2022, reach out to The Karuna Collective.

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