8 leadership assumptions being overturned now

Our community of IT leaders and experts weigh in on traditional leadership notions that they've seen turned upside down in recent months. Which ones hit home with you?
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The COVID-19 outbreak has changed business and workforce behavior on a scale we’ve never seen before. This rapid change has challenged deeply-held assumptions about what is and isn’t possible with technology and business behavior. 

We asked our community of IT leaders and experts to share some of the leadership assumptions they're seeing overturned. Read on to see if you’re experiencing any of these changes yourself, and use the comments section to tell us about other assumptions you're seeing upended.

1. Certain jobs just can't be done remotely

“In many industries, there is very change resistant thinking of, 'This is the way we do things.' Prior to the pandemic, there were many jobs that could theoretically be done remotely, and when presented with the opportunity, leaders with that old-school thinking would say, 'Yeah, that’s nice. But it’s for somebody else. It’s not for us.' With this current situation being forced upon all industries, we're starting to see a change in that thinking. 

In the logistics space, for example, there are a lot of face-to-face interactions. The work is physical, a driver is entering a facility, handing over a PO to someone guarding a gate, workers are unloading trucks. They're doing essential labor. The pandemic is now prompting leaders to ask, 'How do we keep our people safe? How do we go to things like contact-less payments, and how do we further automate the entire process so that when the driver comes into the facility, they don’t interact with anybody?'" – Mark Runyon, Principal Consultant, Improving

[ Also read: A silver lining to the current crisis: Rethinking work ]

2. Collaboration must happen face-to-face and in real time

“Some assumptions are being called into question about what's the right model of collaboration. I'm hearing a lot of discussion about what is the right way to collaborate, and how much of it must be a face-to-face exchange and real-time dialog, versus how much of it can happen asynchronously. In some cases, it's working better for people to do some work, exchange it with their collaboration partners, and let them add their feedback - especially with all the other things people are balancing right now. It's challenging the mindset that everyone must be in the same place at the same time to collaborate.” – Melissa Swift, Global Solution Leader, Digital Transformation Advisory, Korn Ferry

3. Home demands must not bleed into the work day

“There's always been an assumption that people will generally be 100 percent present for work and their work life will remain essentially 100 percent separate from their home life. Managers who bought into that assumption believed they could do management by walking around – that they could verbally make a decision and assume that everyone is going to be there to hear it. Now that type of communication isn't happening at all. Instead, remote working is leading to alternative means of communication and multi-channel communication such as video, chat, and email. 

A positive side effect is we may be able to address differences in how people learn as a result of going through this.

The reality is, now that so many people are working from home, we're all learning how home demands are bleeding into the way we work. For example, say at any given moment, 70 percent of the staff is actually available. The other 30 percent may be providing schooling for their children who are suddenly home with them.       

As a result, we're rethinking the way we communicate and interact with teams. We have multiple channels for communication. I believe this is going to allow us to interact with people who learn and gain information differently. A positive side effect is we may be able to address differences in how people learn as a result of going through this and adjusting to that availability.”  – Michael Walker, Global Senior Director, Red Hat Open Innovation Labs

4. Working from home is a job perk, not a way of life 

“This pandemic has proven that many employees can successfully do their jobs remotely. Previously, it was common for companies to offer the ability to work from home once a week or a few days a month as a job perk. In the future, we're going to see remote working become the norm. Now that we've turned that assumption on its head, it will be interesting to see what new perks emerge for employees who are allowed or encouraged to work from home full-time.” – Cedric Wells, veteran Director of IT Business Solutions 

5. You can't build deeply interconnected teams over video calls

“I'm loving the teams I'm working with at the moment. We're learning that it's entirely possible to build strong, healthy teams that have fun together, care for each other, and build amazing products together via video. It's possible to be more deeply connected if you put some intentionality and creativity into it. My favorite example of fun is that we all wear crazy hats every Friday. And when someone recently rolled off the team, we spent some time thanking them and giving them a "hat-tip" to say thanks for their contribution to the team.” – Rich Theil, CEO, The Noble Foundry

6. Super-professional calls are better than real calls

“Since we all started work from home, I've been on calls where kids climb all over their parents, their cats walk across the screen, or there's an argument happening in the background between parent and child. In my own house you'll get live piano background music from any one of our three children – most people enjoy it. None of this makes us think any less of each other. To the contrary, it seems we appreciate the humanity and the realness of it. Perhaps recognizing each other as people and getting to know each other at a deeper level is really only possible in a 100 percent remote world.” – Rich Theil, CEO, The Noble Foundry

7. Organizations don't need to play an active role in employee wellness

With the demands to connect, engage, lead, and continuously deliver across both work and life, there’s no such thing as “business as usual” anymore. It’s clear we must watch out for our health and performance of mind more so than before. Those of us who work from home across global time zones must disconnect from the busy, digital lifestyle of our work day to take care of our personal well-being more diligently. 

We have entered a new era where we must actively support a mindful workplace that enables the nurturing of health and performance of the mind.

We have entered a new era where we must actively support a mindful workplace that enables the nurturing of health and performance of the mind. Companies must highlight the importance of taking breaks to refresh and re-energize for productivity. Even in virtual events, we see personal wellness sessions, such as mindfulness or yoga, being added to refresh our minds. Organizations must tune their workforce management direction to establish cultures in which overwork and always-on is not a positive thing. The management of work and personal time is not “business as usual.” Employees must have greater flexibility, with organizations being more flexible about former structures and ways of working. – Eveline Oehrlich, Chief Research Analyst, DevOps Institute

8. You can't build authentic relationships virtually 

“People are connecting more authentically with each other working remotely than working in the same office. Who knew this would be the case? I think the reason is that we are seeing each other in a much broader context than is typical 'in office.' We're seeing people's private workspaces or homes. We're seeing their pets, kids, and spouses. We're seeing them deal with unexpected and sometimes embarrassing interruptions. In other words, we're seeing each other more as the real and whole people we are, and less as the roles and positions we play 'at work.' Including bad hair days, no makeup days, baseball hat days, etc.” – Bob Kantor, Founder, Kantor Consulting Group, Inc.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

As community manager for The Enterprisers Project, Ginny Hamilton helps build the site's community of CIOs, IT leaders, and readers. She is responsible for helping tell the stories of leading IT executives – showcasing the projects, experiences, and challenges they're facing in their roles as IT leaders.



It seems the old guard is lamenting their lack of control.
I agree that teams are better formed with face-to-face interactions. I'm old school, in that I like to talk with people. The occasional meet-n-greet is great for relationship building. but the other 92% of the time I am more effective at work when unmolested by drive-by management. If most managers would lear to be concise in their vision, give clear direction, and then positively get out of the way so we can get work done, those people might realize improved results.

I'm more effective when not distracted by the million things that drive my attention away from work while sitting in a sea of cubicles, random conversations, commute times, and just trying to get to the restroom and back without being side-tracked by someone who just wants to chat or has a knee-jerk idea that they'll forget about in a day or two. I've gotten more work done in the past 3 month of covid isolation than ever before. Poor middle managers are likely just discovering how much room they may have for improvement.

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