COVID-Leadership Reloaded

January 24, 2022

Five Skills to Secure Success in 2022

Having mastered remote and digital leadership and acquired extensive technological know-how in 2021, 2022 will be all about crisis skills for managers. In this regard, a focus on leading people, resilience, and flexible strategies to overcome crises will be key.

Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy, has analyzed the five leadership skills managers won’t be able to do without in 2022.

Wooden blocks, with symbols for leadership themes on them, are stacked by one hand to form a pyramid
Crisis skills are also essential for managers in the new year. Photo © Shutterstock – Monster Ztudio

“In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, we had to be first responders, act as fast as possible, and as soon as managers had taken care of an emergency, a new one popped up. Businesses had to go online virtually overnight and replace old business models with new digital ones in a matter of only a few weeks. What’s more, suitable framework conditions for the right mix of remote and hybrid work had to be established,” Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy, recalls.

Changes in Leadership Style: From Emergency Response to Crisis Management

But 2022 will have an entirely different focus: “If the challenges of the past years were fires managers had to put out, this year will be about tending to their smoldering remains that can still be found in numerous places throughout the company. This will come with whole new leadership challenges,” Stöttinger says.

While managers require corporate management skills and expertise regardless of the environment they’re in, the ongoing crisis that keeps throwing unpredictable difficulties nobody can plan for their way makes it all the more important for them to also excel in self- and people-management.

Barbara Stöttinger Portrait

Barbara Stöttinger

  • Dean of the WU Executive Academy

What managers need to do now is to embrace the emotional aspects of leadership as well – and that will take a special set of soft skills.

Managers are well advised to master the following five leadership skills to succeed in the year ahead:

1. Painting a Colorful Future to Offset the Current Lackluster Mood

As the light at the end of the tunnel keeps failing to materialize, keeping frustration at bay can become difficult. Slowly but surely, the crisis is wreaking havoc on people’s motivation and spirit as well as the psychological and mental health of both employees and managers. Working from home right next to the kids as schools have switched to distance learning, worrying about the security of one’s job and constantly having to adapt to new situations can lead to anxiety and a gnawing feeling of uncertainty. Barbara Stöttinger’s tip for hard times like these is to draw inspiration from great personalities of the recent past who have managed to overcome crises that seemed insurmountable through their extraordinary courage, discipline, and resilience. Take, for instance, Nelson Mandela: “Even a life sentence did not discourage him from further developing his vision for a new society in South Africa, even though he had no reasons to hope that the nightmare he was living in would ever come to an end.”

Nelson Mandela in an artistic interpretation
Great personalities who had to struggle through extreme times of crisis can be a source of inspiration. Photo © Unsplash – Gregory Fullard

Viktor Frankl, who went on to invent logotherapy and existential analysis after surviving the horrors of internment in four concentration camps, is another example. “Despite the cruelty of his situation that seemed to defy hope, he was able to keep dreaming of a distant future, imagining how he would deliver his inaugural lecture at the University of Vienna,” Barbara Stöttinger explains. “We can study ways to handle crises by looking at such exceptional personalities: instead of leaning back and waiting for things to return to normal, it is important to accept that (business) life will always have its ups and downs and that things, just like the weather, keep changing,” she says. Once you have come to terms with that, you can focus on the ways in which you can shape the future: “Not only societies but also companies need a greater vision for the future to build on and to keep everyone going and motivated when the going gets rough,” Stöttinger says. In practical terms, this means that managers shouldn’t waste their time decrying the present but work with their teams on proactively shaping a better future – regardless of what else the pandemic might still have in store for the world.

2. Acquiring the Skill to Tolerate Ambiguity

“Complex problems require complex solutions. To come up with those, we must learn to stand ambiguity and even tolerate it with ease,” Barbara Stöttinger says. What’s true today could be obsolete tomorrow: we have learned that all too well as new findings about the coronavirus forced us to constantly update our understanding of it. Scientific revolutions happen at an ever-increasing pace; facts sometimes fail to cover all aspects of a situation or seem to contradict each other; and some (useful) measures might appear illogical.

3. Focusing on Solutions

Regardless whether we’re looking at actual problems of the present or potential ones in the future: if we fixate on them too intently, these problems will be all we’ll be able to see. “The public debate often ends with what’s wrong or working poorly, and unfortunately, a focus on solutions is frequently missing altogether,” Barbara Stöttinger explains. In companies, it is managers who should live up to their responsibilities as “Chief Executive Problem Solvers.” “Modern leadership also means encouraging others and yourself to not shy away from novel solutions.” Against this backdrop, it is “essential to counter fake news and the resulting uncertainty whether facts can be trusted with rational thinking and courageous actions.”

Two magnifying glasses, one focused on the word "Fact", the other on the word "Fake".
Today, modern leadership also includes taking a firm stand against fake news. Photo © Shutterstock - Zolak

4. Establishing Strategic Foresight as a Scenario Modeling Tool

“The crisis forced many managers to react swiftly and come up with new business models or alternative ways of reaching customers,” Barbara Stöttinger says. This entrepreneurial spirit is still of the essence. “We have acquired new ways of collaborating. Now, it’s about coming up with future-proof business models and corporate cultures.” A key question to ask ourselves as we do so: What will we do if the pandemic continues for another two or three or even more years? This will take what experts call strategic foresight, i.e., the skill to imagine different scenarios for the future. “Scenarios never materialize exactly the way we envision them. But if we have dealt with various options intensively, we will be more flexible, efficient, and quick when it comes to making a decision – no matter which scenario will eventually unfold,” Stöttinger emphasizes.

5. Investing in Your Own Resilience

The skill to keep a level head even under pressure and not forfeit your drive even in the face of setbacks is, perhaps not surprisingly, also a leadership skill Barbara Stöttinger wants you to cultivate this year. “Leaders must always be prepared to adapt their strategy to a changed environment. Don’t lose your cool when you have to change course. Instead, think pragmatically and be brave enough to take the new steps that’ll be required to reach the desired goals,” Barbara Stöttinger says.

Resilience also includes the abilities to solve conflicts professionally and to handle criticism, particularly from within one’s team. Once you have managed to do so, you can jointly reflect on what to do next.

To start the new year well prepared as a leader, you should also make a few leadership resolutions.

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