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How managers deal with the new normal

Does the Corona pandemic require a new approach to leadership? How managers deal with the new normal - read more here

Our study of the month March

As the economy evolves through the Corona Pandemic, is there a need for a new approach to leadership? Since the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic in March 2020, the daily work routine in companies has changed radically in almost all industries. How executives deal with this new normal presents all managers with new, previously unknown challenges. Leadership itself is also subject to major changes as a result. The question arises whether the definition of leadership is changing to the effect that managers should increasingly lead their employees or instead encourage them to lead themselves.

Researchers at Darmstadt University of Technology conducted an online conference with about 100 managers in April and May 2020 to examine changes in daily work routines since the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic. In our “Study of the Month”, we present the key findings of this study.

Empowering leadership is needed

Empowering Leadership will help address challenges in the wake of the Covid 19 pandemic. Empowering leadership takes the approach of empowering employees by giving them authority and responsibility to lead themselves, rather than leading them in the traditional sense.

With this in mind, the study addresses the following guiding questions:

  • Why is empowering leadership important in the current crisis?
  • What is behind the term “empowering leadership”?
  • How common is empowering leadership in practice?
  • How relevant to success is empowering leadership in practice?

Why is empowering leadership important in the current crisis?

Even beyond the phase of acute lockdown, managers must have the ability to deal flexibly with changing situations in the future. The associated work in personal responsibility therefore requires a management that enables the employees to do this. Thus, managers should encourage their workers to achieve individual goals, which is covered by the empowering leadership approach.

What is behind Empowering Leadership?

The empowering leadership approach literally means “empowering leadership” and opposes the “command and control” leadership style. This approach involves encouraging employees to lead themselves and gives room for personal responsibility.

Empowering leadership can be divided into four dimensions:

  • Involvement in decisions: Employees’ ideas and initiatives are taken up and implemented
  • clarify the meaning: Employees are made aware of their contribution in the overall picture
  • Trust employees: Managers’ trust in their employees is expressed in words and deeds
  • Promote autonomy and non-bureaucratic action: Employees have the freedom to make independent and unbureaucratic decisions up to a certain scope

When properly implemented, these four dimensions of empowering leadership can help reduce the administrative leadership burden on managers by rather claiming employee support as needed.

How common is empowering leadership in practice?

According to the executives surveyed, around 70% have been working from their home offices since the start of the pandemic. Previously, this figure was 23.8%. It is therefore obvious that everyday working life has changed considerably in this respect. However, this change does not show a negative impact on the productivity of the executives surveyed, with about half indicating that their productivity has increased since the pandemic. This, in turn, does not weigh heavily on job satisfaction, as nearly half of respondents also expressed an increase in their job satisfaction.

The study also includes questions on how managers promote employee autonomy. For example, around 85% state that they have confidence in the good performance of their employees. Almost 80% involve their employees in operational decisions. According to their own statements, almost three quarters of those surveyed specifically strengthen the autonomy of employees in their day-to-day work. The fact that the classic concept of leadership is less practiced these days is illustrated by the fact that only 21.8% describe their own leadership style as ironclad.

In terms of considering employee well-being, managers can be divided into two groups. On the one hand, there are the structure-focused managers, who attach great importance to orderly and structured work processes, and on the other hand, the well-being-focused managers, who take interpersonal factors and a pleasant working atmosphere into account.

Overall, leadership is developing independently toward leadership in the sense of empowering leadership and is moving away from classic leadership based on hierarchies.

How relevant to success is empowering leadership in practice?

The relevance of empowering leadership to success varies from company to company. In order to evaluate this, the question arises to what extent the new leadership approach is applied in the crisis. Using this approach, the two effects of empowering leadership become apparent:

  • The positive correlation with the work-life balance of the manager
  • The positive effect on the performance of the manager and the employees

Sustainable navigation

The challenges that managers face nowadays arise, on the one hand, from the environment of the person concerned and, on the other hand, from the way the person concerned feels and works. Thus, there is the following advice to cope with them as positively as possible:

  • Openness to change
  • Empowerment of the team
  • Support for employees

Conclusion and outlook

Empowering Leadership enables leaders to free up time and empower themselves by relinquishing certain tasks and responsibilities. This freed-up time can thus be invested in short-term and critical challenges and tasks. Moreover, this approach has an impact beyond the Covid 19 pandemic and should be viewed as a foundation for sustainable effective leadership in today’s workplace.

Source: Ruth Stock-Homburg, Franziska Wolf, Charles Walczynski (2020): “Left Alone or Empowered,” Human Resources Magazine 12/2020, p.44-S.47.

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