TalentLeadership DevelopmentPost-pandemic leadership: exploring mysteries or solving puzzles?

Post-pandemic leadership: exploring mysteries or solving puzzles?

HRD Thought Leader Dave Ulrich outlines pressing considerations around post-pandemic leadership, and the impact on organisations

The post-pandemic is either with us or soon to come. Many leaders offer insights on the new normal for the world of work: hybrid work settings, digitally enabled work processes, and agile organisational actions. We are somewhat hesitant to predict a new normal given the incredible uncertainty of the 2020–2021 crises, where few would have predicted the pandemic, civic injustice, economic granularity, political discord, emotional disorders, or other challenges.

We also recognize that this people/organisation mélange of crises provides an opportunity for significant transformation of the human capital agenda for talent, leadership, organization, and HR.

Since we are in the business of observing, studying, and advising leaders, we want to help leaders better lead while they may not clearly know the context (e.g., hybrid, digital, agile, etc.) in which they do so.

With others, we have crafted lists of post-pandemic leadership skills that may help leaders lead, but how do leaders apply these skills when a new normal is not predictable? The ability to lead from a position of not knowing will be the post-pandemic leadership differentiator for the future.

Often people turn to their leaders to find answers to organisation questions: what is our organisation’s purpose (vision, mission, strategy, goals)? How do we deliver on this purpose (ensure accountability, teamwork, change processes)?

How do we help our people do their best (build competence, commitment, and experience)? How do we create the right culture to help our organization succeed in the marketplace?

Post pandemic logistical puzzles grab leaders’ attention, but perhaps in the unknowable future, leaders will be less often tasked with answering these urgent questions and more challenged with asking the right questions. Asking thoughtful questions often:

  • Shape agendas more than providing smart answers does.
  • Increase rather than limits possibilities.
  • Engage others in discovering options.
  • Allow for continuous learning and adaptation.

Leadership curiosity or the ability to explore options and ask good questions may be more important than total clarity in an unknowable normal. Exploring options or mysteries may be the path to wisdom and insight rather than intellectual cleverness, problem solving, or questions answering.

Adapting Gregory Treverton’s thoughtful distinction between puzzles and mysteries (and Malcolm Gladwell’s use of this typology), we suggest that post-pandemic leadership puzzle-questions are out to find clarity or a right answer; however, leadership questions born out of curiosity raise alternatives.

Crossword puzzles have a solution that requires problem-solving ability, and for those who are the best puzzle solvers, they learn the methods, short-cuts, and techniques. Curiosity leads to inquiry into mysteries that cannot always be solved but can be explored in order to make progress.

Post-pandemic leadership may be more about anthropology and curiosity rather than analytics and solutions. Let us summarise in figure one how leaders can be more oriented to curiosity rather than clarity.

What's Hot

Learning to win the talent war: how digital marketing can develop its people

Whitepaper | Talent Development Learning to win the talent war: how digital marketing can develop its people

2w

Learning to win the talent war: how digital market...

This report documents the findings of a Fireside chat held by ClickZ in the first quarter of 2022. It provides expert insight on how companies can ret...

View resource
HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging The Hybrid Workforce

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging The Hybrid Workforce 5 May 2022

3w

HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging ...

We know hybrid working is here to stay, forcing many organisations to experiment with innovative and creative strategies from 4-day working weeks to u...

View event
HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What We Need to Reward, Engage and Retain

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What We Need to Reward, Engage and Retain 3 March 2022

3w

HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What...

We know the pandemic has caused many people to revaluate their careers and relationships with work and have been seeing the impact in global trends in...

View event
Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simplify complexity?

Leadership Development Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simplify complexity?

4m Dave Ulrich

Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simpl...

HR thought leader Dave Ulrich outlines ways leaders can deal with complexity in an increasingly busy world, including how to think critically and turn...

View article
HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Organisational Decision Making

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Organisational Decision Making 5 May 2022

3w

HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Org...

Historically, HR hasn’t been as effective as it could be in sharing and communicating data with wider teams. It’s paramount that we remove the self-in...

View event
Digital transformation investment grows but critical skills gaps remain - Coursera report

Digital HR Digital transformation investment grows but critical skills gaps remain - Coursera report

4m Leah Belsky

Digital transformation investment grows but critic...

Covid-19 has accelerated the rate of digital learning on a global scale. Coursera's latest report provides an update on employee proficiency in a numb...

View article
Wellbeing in the hybrid workplace: how to successfully drive engagement

Employee Engagement Wellbeing in the hybrid workplace: how to successfully drive engagement

4m Alara Basul | Sponsored

Wellbeing in the hybrid workplace: how to successf...

Remote working has impacted the way we communicate as a workforce, but striking the right balance between creating an engaged workforce and a successf...

View article
How to create a company culture capable of empowering the modern workforce

Culture How to create a company culture capable of empowering the modern workforce

4m Alara Basul | Sponsored

How to create a company culture capable of empower...

While new working patterns that emerged from the pandemic have earned a permanent spot in the workplace, creating a purpose-driven culture based ...

View article
WATCH: Connection and collaboration in a hybrid workplace

Leadership Learnings WATCH: Connection and collaboration in a hybrid workplace

4m Amy Kirkham

WATCH: Connection and collaboration in a hybrid wo...

Alison Noon-Jones, VP of People & Culture at Leidos UK & Europe, shares how crucial employee engagement and participation is when shaping the people s...

View article
Turbulence ahead: Why it’s time to be bold in your leadership

Leadership Development Turbulence ahead: Why it’s time to be bold in your leadership

5m Terence Mauri

Turbulence ahead: Why it’s time to be bold in your...

HRD thought leader and Hack Future Lab founder Terence Mauri sets out why the biggest risk to leadership is not turbulence itself, but leading with ye...

View article

Figure one

ppost-pandemic leadership

Asking the right leadership questions

To help leaders become mystery explorers through increasing curiosity, we suggest a typology for asking the right questions (see figure two). This can be used collaboratively with teams working on strategic or organisational transformation challenges.

  • Scoping questions emphasise the context about the leadership challenge (e.g., defining a purpose, creating a plan for execution, enabling employees, building the right culture).
  • Knowledge mapping identifies those with information to respond to leadership challenges.
  • Action refers to possible steps forward.
  • The impact and learning area ensures a cycle of continuous improvement.

For each of these four categories, we have proposed five questions that leaders might ask to demonstrate curiosity and to emphasize exploring mysteries more than solving puzzles (see figure two).

Figure two:

Questions to discover the future: The 4x5Q Process

post-pandemic leadership

Case study of leadership through questions

A leading care sector organisation faced significant transformational challenges. Its reputation was based on human values and care for the elderly in its homes and communities. However, the introduction of new technologies had lagged behind innovations in the market.

Multi-site locations led by local leaders had developed multiple different practices and systems. The CEO wanted to drive streamlined, sustainable transformation that would extend beyond simply digitizing the business. Executives recognized an opportunity to use the 4x5Q typology to drive this change and help leaders simultaneously develop their leadership capability.

Leaders were grouped into teams and briefed by an executive on the three-year business plan. They then scoped a leadership question to research and address over a six-month period.

Questions ranged from the more strategic (“How can I understand the changing market for later life care and use this intelligence to influence future strategies?”) to the more operational (“How can I engage my team to embrace the introduction of new technologies to support our service delivery?”).

Team members supported each other as they developed their research inquiry, which was conducted both within the business and externally. This meant leaders had to commit time and effort to such future-focused leadership challenges despite the reactive challenges of supporting residents and staff through and beyond the most demanding of times due to the pandemic.

The process of asking questions increased variety and helped this company make progress.

Conclusion

No one doubts that leaders matter in emerging from the 2020–2021 crises. To become effective, leaders in this unknowable normal need to move beyond solving puzzles to exploring mysteries by being curious. The question framework we offer may help leaders lead into the future.

Contributors:

Richard Hale, founder.

Subscribe to HRD Connect for daily updates on the future of work, including thought leadership, video interviews, the HRD Live Podcast and more.

Comments are closed.

What's Hot

Learning to win the talent war: how digital marketing can develop its people

Whitepaper | Talent Development Learning to win the talent war: how digital marketing can develop its people

2w

Learning to win the talent war: how digital market...

This report documents the findings of a Fireside chat held by ClickZ in the first quarter of 2022. It provides expert insight on how companies can ret...

View resource
HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging The Hybrid Workforce

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging The Hybrid Workforce 5 May 2022

3w

HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging ...

We know hybrid working is here to stay, forcing many organisations to experiment with innovative and creative strategies from 4-day working weeks to u...

View event
HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What We Need to Reward, Engage and Retain

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What We Need to Reward, Engage and Retain 3 March 2022

3w

HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What...

We know the pandemic has caused many people to revaluate their careers and relationships with work and have been seeing the impact in global trends in...

View event
Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simplify complexity?

Leadership Development Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simplify complexity?

4m Dave Ulrich

Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simpl...

HR thought leader Dave Ulrich outlines ways leaders can deal with complexity in an increasingly busy world, including how to think critically and turn...

View article
HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Organisational Decision Making

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Organisational Decision Making 5 May 2022

3w

HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Org...

Historically, HR hasn’t been as effective as it could be in sharing and communicating data with wider teams. It’s paramount that we remove the self-in...

View event
Digital transformation investment grows but critical skills gaps remain - Coursera report

Digital HR Digital transformation investment grows but critical skills gaps remain - Coursera report

4m Leah Belsky

Digital transformation investment grows but critic...

Covid-19 has accelerated the rate of digital learning on a global scale. Coursera's latest report provides an update on employee proficiency in a numb...

View article
Wellbeing in the hybrid workplace: how to successfully drive engagement

Employee Engagement Wellbeing in the hybrid workplace: how to successfully drive engagement

4m Alara Basul | Sponsored

Wellbeing in the hybrid workplace: how to successf...

Remote working has impacted the way we communicate as a workforce, but striking the right balance between creating an engaged workforce and a successf...

View article
How to create a company culture capable of empowering the modern workforce

Culture How to create a company culture capable of empowering the modern workforce

4m Alara Basul | Sponsored

How to create a company culture capable of empower...

While new working patterns that emerged from the pandemic have earned a permanent spot in the workplace, creating a purpose-driven culture based ...

View article