The rise of the people-first leader in the wake of #blacklivesmatter

06 Jul 2020

The rise of the people-first leader in the wake of #blacklivesmatter

As HR professionals think more long-term about a working world beyond initial crisis, dealing with issues like diversity will call for fresh leadership profiles and management structures.

Our recent round table discussion was a reminder that the time has come to implement long-term change over short-term fixes.

The recent “Black Lives Matter” protests are a stark reminder that the world does not stand still during a pandemic.

With the huge diversity represented across the APAC region, HR Directors were keen to discuss what the protests mean to our region.  Also, how can this moment jolt companies into redoubling efforts to remove prejudice at all levels of the corporate structure?

A diverse and complex region

How do the protests relate to Asia? Prejudice is certainly alive and well in Asia Pacific. But the form of it may differ from country to country. Therefore, the Black Lives Matter protests in the US and elsewhere are extremely relevant to the APAC region. 

More than words

The group acknowledged that executive boards of most multinational companies are still overwhelmingly white and male. In that context, can a leader show understanding or even solidarity and make a call for action without opening him or herself to criticism?

The overwhelming consensus was that leaders should be taking this opportunity to give a clear message to employees that the values of the company are more than just words. However, companies must back it up with hard and fast actions. 

Making incremental change

APAC is diverse and complex. Diversity and tackling prejudice will mean something different in each country and the topic may, in some cases, still be swept under the carpet.

In this increasingly digitised environment, there is an opportunity to engage with employees and “crowdsource” ideas to design a plan country by country. Additionally, all multinationals already have a diversity and inclusion playbook, but is it relevant to the specific country and is it observed? Diversity processes and goals can be put in place. However, if progress is to be made, there needs to be a shift “from talking about numbers to talking about people.”

The rise of the quiet leader

In a time of great and rapid change, leaders who are curious, open to new ideas and data, flexible in their thinking and able to adapt and improvise to changing circumstances are shining.

Conversely, leaders who are rigid and unable to adjust may struggle to navigate the next few years. 

Social distancing, remote working and travel restrictions neutralize the traditional “silverback” physical characteristics associated with leadership. Leaders, so used to having a “commanding presence”, are having to adapt.

While many will learn to adapt their style, some will struggle to be as effective. In contrast, this may be a watershed moment for a new type of leader.

Anecdotally, there were several instances noted where women leaders have shone through in this crisis. Characterising female versus male leadership is rocky ground. However, leaders who are authentically interested in people, and compassionate, appear more likely to engage colleagues, understand the issues on a human level and build trust in this new distanced world.

Moving from resilience to endurance

HR Directors discussed re-structuring management KPIs with higher scores for employee engagement during this period. The focus needs to shift from physical to mental wellbeing.

Leaders should focus on individuals and realise that everyone will need different levels of support. 

Should we add M to HSE (for mental well-being)? This is one of the most stressful periods in most people’s lives and there is no end in sight.

In addition to the stresses and strains of living through a pandemic, colleagues are having to deal with isolation from family, home schooling while working from home, family members losing jobs and an increased level of financial instability. Companies are now looking at how they can make a difference by providing support and coaching.

Designing a new platform for work

In the new, more distanced, world of work, companies that provide clarity around systems of working and communication and remove ambiguities will also provide a working environment that reduces stress.

A “buddy system” is being implemented in some cases to ensure that, with the absence of meeting around the water cooler, there is still a shoulder to cry on when needed.

To discuss these issues, and your hiring and talent requirements, please get in touch.