29 Apr 2021 22:05 IST

Five skills young managers need to fight the Covid crisis

Demonstrating empathy and maintaining an open mindset is imperative while dealing with ambiguity

The Covid-19 crisis puts management and leadership to the ultimate test. Although we are moving ahead with vaccines, the crisis is far from over. However, this does not have to be seen as a negative attribute. Those professionals who can prove they have the dynamic managerial skills as required by the business in the current situation will be greatly rewarded, regardless of the prevailing uncertainty.

Competition for these positions is far more intense today, and emphasis is needed on those managerial skills which will be invaluable for businesses during the pandemic. But what are these key set of managerial skills that companies are seeking in the face of a global disruption?

Forging shared identity

In the era of work from home, strong communication skills are critical. Clarity in emails and virtual meetings is essential to build confidence and maintain high levels of productivity when working remotely. Managers of virtual teams are required to know how to make meetings shorter and to the point. Also, they need to practice acculturation which requires prolonged face-to-face interaction to foster mutual understanding, reinforce established norms, and forge a shared identity. Additionally, managers can indulge in continuous listening, using various mechanisms, to understand the real feel of their team members. Regular feedback provided to the team members will enable these managers to keep pace with the evolving expectations in these uncertain times.

This will aid them better connect with their remote teams. Here it is worthwhile to acknowledge the inextricable linkage that exists between communication skills and emotional intelligence (EI). EI refers to our ability to understand the emotions of people around us, to manage them and handle interpersonal relationships well. A good manager should strive to maintain cohesion in the team while reiterating a common goal, promoting levity, and paying attention to balancing the expectations of the team members. To that end, exercising emotional intelligence becomes increasingly important for a manager.

Combination of hard and soft skills

During and post the pandemic, teamwork is anticipated to be a hybrid of virtual coordination and face-to-face collaboration. Operating across these two distinct modes includes bringing about clarity in goals, monitoring progress, knowledge and information sharing while fostering deep learning and innovation. The pandemic has led to an increased demand for both hard skills and soft skills. Remotely working requires a good level of digital literacy. Also, technical expertise is critical, as is the ability to lead effectively.

Managers would be required to combine the two and demonstrate their ability to lead productive teams successfully. They should be able to not only get the best results from their teams, but also foster a team spirit and promote collaboration among team members. This is possible,firstly, by being visible and accessible to the reports and peers. Secondly,by building trust and striking a balance between demonstrating empathy vis-a-vis coaching reports to push beyond their boundaries.

Open to alternatives

Problem solving skills are crucial, specifically for managers and teams operating virtually. The failure to bring internal and external stakeholders together on projects makes decision making more difficult, and more conflict looms on the horizon. Problem solving skills enables a manager to view problems as opportunities and figure out the most effective methods to resolve these issues. In these times of crisis, decisive action is needed to be made at a pace by leading managers. Therefore, each decision made needs to be thoroughly investigated, objectively examined and all possible alternatives assessed before recommending the best course of action.

Making informed decisions

The Covid-19 experience accelerated businesses' digital transformation significantly. Data and insights-driven decision are becoming even more critical today. The usage of analytic-tools can assist organisations in gaining a better understanding of the future requirements and the impact those requirements will have on the business. These insights will be further used to capitalise on emerging technological changes, identifying opportunities, and reinventing newer ways of working.

At this juncture, it is important for managers to be able to effectively evaluate disinformation and manipulated data, thus discerning fact from fiction. Strong data analytics skills will be needed to make informed decisions. Professionals should be able to think critically and analytically in order to process the information and thereafter, infer from it.

Managing uncertainty

Flexibility in the workplace is associated with the ability to work effectively under pressure, maintain an open mindset, adapt to new and unexpected deadlines, and, in some cases, take on additional responsibilities, in case need arises. There is a visible culture shift in the ways organisations work. Hence, managers must prepare to adapt to dealing with more ambiguity. Interestingly, two distinct types of flexibility are known to optimise productivity in any organisation. Cognitive flexibility helps to think in newer ways while utilising divergent thinking, experimenting with novel approaches, anticipating and capitalising on new opportunities.

More than ever, it is critical now to gain knowledge from newer experiences and to recognise when established methods do not work. On the other hand, managers also need to display dispositional flexibility by demonstrating optimism grounded in realism and openness. These professionals view change and disruption as opportunities rather than threats, guiding the team towards a more promising future.

These are only a few traits that matter, but these are most crucial ones. Many of these skills have historically been viewed as tertiary and nice to have, but in this inconvenient time, they are seen as imperative to fit into the profile of a leading manager.

(The writer is Assistant Professor, Business Communication, MDI Gurgaon.)