Hybrid Leadership: how the leadership style of the future will be successful

You've barely finished your first cup of coffee before you open your laptop and start your new workday. Slack messages, Zoom meetings and email inboxes are waiting for you within your own four walls. Work from home has become the new normal. That requires a new set of skills. Managers occupy a new position between two worlds and must combine them in such a way that makes everyone feel seen in the team and optimally supported in their career as well. Fixed structures of office life blur with the world of pixels. New needs and challenges arise. A bridge between offline and online is therefore more important than ever. But what skills are needed to build this bridge and move skilfully between both worlds? And how can companies support their managers to successfully make the transition to hybrid leadership?

Rethinking as the first step to success

The first step seems trivial, but it should not be underestimated when it comes to paving the way for a new leadership style. It is time for change. Face-to-face meetings with a cup of coffee or meetings at the lunch table are largely a thing of the past. Nowadays, we meet in small rectangles, side by side, in a virtual space. This is a new working environment that has changed the rules, and companies must recognise and accept it. A shift in thinking toward a new reality is the first step toward successful change.

In the office, it is usually easier to recognise how employees feel and behave. Conversations during breaks and non-verbal communication reveal a lot about the mood and well-being of the team. These social cues directly translate into efficiency and performance. You can still see these non-verbal cues and have these conversations virtually, but they aren’t always the same. It is more difficult to recognise individual needs and respond to them appropriately. It’s vital that every company has managers who can respond to both on-site employees and those who work from home. They need to understand both worlds and connect them through targeted collaboration, individual or team meetings, and team activities. In doing so, managers take on a neutral role in which they have the best of both worlds in view and from which they can act appropriately to the situation.

How does change work best?

Every company must be optimally prepared for the new leadership style. Old leadership structures must be analysed and, if necessary, changed to be able to combine them with new leadership tasks. Core competencies such as creating stability, clarity, and structure, as well as the ability to respond appropriately to the needs of employees, remain of central importance in hybrid leadership.

However, the fusion of the online and offline worlds creates a field of tension that requires new bridging competencies. Core competencies must be adapted to the new working world to continue to be used effectively. Also, other tasks are added that didn’t exist in this way in the previous offline world. The change works best when managers familiarize themselves with the new working environment and settle into their new role as facilitators and bridge builders. Companies can create a framework that makes it easier for managers to recognise the new reality and drive change without structural hurdles. If they trust their managers and offer them the opportunity to acquire new knowledge in workshops and online courses, the most important basic conditions are in place.

New skills for managers

As humans, we strive for security and control. If we have the feeling we are losing them, we can hesitate in our peak performance. In a fixed work structure, where processes are largely predictable, these basic needs can be adequately satisfied. But what happens when fixed structures gradually dissolve and work and team structures change every minute? A dynamic working world requires new orientation. Despite constant change, we want control and stability so that we don't stagger haphazardly through the day. Managers can ensure clarity and trust by taking their team along the path to the new working world. Jointly formulated visions and goals are more tangible, strengthen the team's sense of belonging and provide new orientation. Managers can encourage employees to actively shape the transformation process. Concrete goals for the team are set together.

With increasing digitalisation and the focus on the screen, entire levels of perception fall away. Private problems and emotions literally disappear behind the screens. It becomes more difficult to see how employees are feeling, who is struggling with their day-to-day work, and who would have been ready for new challenges and tasks long ago. What is usually discussed in person in the office must be done at a distance in remote work. The screen remains a filter here, making it more difficult to build personal relationships. That’s why managers must have good emotional skills to recognise employees' needs, empathise with them and act appropriately. Additionally, it is more important than ever to really listen to employees. In a world where time is scarce, this is really appreciated by employees. Even with busy schedules, scheduling time for personal conversations and feedback sessions should be a priority so that a personal bond can develop, even at a distance.

In addition to all the hard and soft skills that managers should have in both the offline and online world, their new core task is to connect both worlds with each other. From a neutral position in the middle, they must act like jugglers who have everything well in view, move dynamically, and can flexibly respond to challenges.

How companies can help their managers

The change in the labour market has long since begun. We are on stormy seas and need to navigate in new ways to steer the ship safely. Managers face major challenges, there's no question about that. However, with the right tools, these tasks can be mastered creatively, whilst at the same time providing new ideas for growth in the hybrid world of work. Exciting opportunities are on the horizon and revealing new possibilities that the world between online and offline holds in store.

A structural change to a hybrid working world is successful when working methods and structures are adequately adapted to the new conditions and employees are involved in the change. Together as a team, the ship is steered best. The company should provide the framework for this by supporting both the management team and the employees. Companies must give their managers the right tools to provide the optimal conditions for successful change.

The necessary know-how is already out there, but now it's a matter of finding the right knowledge and making it accessible to the team. Leadership trainings help to reinterpret leadership competencies and to acquire new skills. In workshops, the acquired knowledge can be trained and tried out in a safe environment. In teams or in individual sessions, work situations can be re-enacted and experienced. It becomes possible to analyse and test reactions and behaviour before they are used in the real work environment. This gives confidence to make the right decisions. Those who are up to date, familiar with the latest company software, digital skills and social media channels feel more confident in their actions. If new social and creative skills also make one's own actions and dealings with the team more personal, creative, and motivating, there is nothing standing in the way of hybrid leadership.

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