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By Chris Underwood, MD at Adastrum Consulting

Even prior to the pandemic, we were living in a world of rapid disruption. Technological innovation is happening at great pace and impacting business models and organisational structures. The “new normal” is not fixed but will constantly change, therefore leaders need to be ready to operate in unchartered environments and tackle new challenges.

Focusing on leadership development remains hugely important for forward-looking organisations and ambitious individuals. However, it is difficult to predict exactly what skills will be relevant and needed in the future. 2020 has proved to be the ultimate “Black Swan” event, unforeseen in its arrival and impact on businesses. While technical skills will be important, soft leadership skills and behaviours that support a change-led culture will prepare businesses for disruption and rapid transformation. Switching the emphasis of development to leadership behaviours and equipping leaders with a core set of de facto skills will better prepare them for future disruption.

It is equally important to create bespoke development programmes, that are set within the context of individual organisations and assessed against the goals that will be expected for particular roles. A one-size fits all approach does not suit the unique challenges faced in different sectors, organisational sizes or structures.

De Facto Skills for Developing Leaders

Understanding digital business models

Innovation brings tremendous potential to disrupt to our workplaces both positively and negatively. For example, improvements in automation could benefit customer engagement, increase efficiency and reduce costs, but could also introduces new threats and challenges existing working practices.

To stay ahead of competition, all senior leaders – regardless of departmental role – must have a grasp on how the digital economy works and how innovation can affect current business models. This ensures organisations can exploit new technology for business benefit and remain competitive.

Agile working

Often associated with the technology function, agile ways of working are both a culture and a mindset. They enable cross-functional collaboration, creativity and collective problem-solving. The agile mindset drives a culture of rapid adoption of change, better customer experiences and, for product development, a reduced time to market. Agility motivates better collective performance, greater stakeholder engagement and superior quality for the output.

Common in start-ups, there is a risk that talented employees may outgrow businesses without organisational and people management structures. Effective leaders find the sweet spot between moving at pace and still ensuring processes are there to manage risk and delivery.

Data Management

Data has the potential to unlock huge business opportunities, as long as leaders know how to ask the right questions of it. Collecting data for data’s sake has become dangerously popular, yet unless organisations use it to actively identify how they can improve specific processes or the customer journey, it holds no value. Future leaders that view data as an enabler to show ways to cut operating costs, maximise profits or improve efficiency, will secure their place in the boardroom.

Key Leadership Behaviours

Chris Underwood

Chris Underwood

Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

Composure and focus are key to maintaining leadership credentials in times of rapid change and maintain purpose. Empathy is critical to building trust and understanding the fear that arises in periods of rapid change. EQ helps individuals to build relationships, collaborate and work effectively with others, understanding diverse viewpoints. For leaders it will also develop a team’s Collective Intelligence (CQ), strengthening creative problem-solving enabling adaptation and flexibility in a fast-changing environment.


Strong communication has long been considered an important leadership quality, but the Coronavirus pandemic has really highlighted its significance when dealing with change. To keep teams motivated and cultivate a community, leaders need to be able to adapt their communication style to different audiences, contexts and situations. When discussing communication, people usually only focus on the broadcast element – how to effectively share their views.  Do not forget that the ability to effectively extract and process is as important – something which leaders must actively practise to maintain.


Embracing technology has played a key role in shifting to remote working over the past few months, with companies and teams that were already forward-thinking adapting far quicker. Change-oriented leaders have proved invaluable during this period and their star is high. These individuals are always curious, exploring new developments in technology and process management to identify where they can improve existing practices.

Always striving for the most effective and efficient ways of working, these leaders and their teams are used to adapting how they work together and are less likely to be overcome by rapid change.

Resilient agility

The pandemic has really shown that “resilient agility” will become a key requirement for leaders moving forwards. It balances adaptability with the fortitude to see things through. Individuals displaying this trait will able to respond to fast-change and meet new needs. At the same time, they also have the grit and emotional resilience to remain dedicated to achieving prime objectives and keep teams on track.

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