Leaders in Conversation is an online discussion series co-hosted by Amanda Cookson and Ken Blackwell, which explores more human ways to work with leaders who are challenging conventional wisdom.

We spoke to Futurologist and Influencer Dave Milner about the future of work and what the workplace might look like post-Covid.

Here we will discuss: the future of leadership; Power skills; and the role of the leader as a talent magnet.

Creating a human connection online

Many leaders are finding it difficult to think in terms of creating a human connection online. As more businesses move towards more hybrid and online working, we asked Dave how do you bring the human side into a digital space?

There are no new behaviours

Dave said that the answer might come as a surprise to some, as it surprised him. Many managers have struggled with remote management but when you look at it, it’s the same set of behaviours that they had to adopt in a face to face environment, it’s just now online. There may be different behaviours they have to refocus on, but these aren’t new behaviours they won’t have dealt with before.

Prioritise connection

He added that it’s about prioritising how they connect with their team. The data that he has seen about human-centric workplaces shows that it’s all about anticipating employee needs, listening to them and acknowledging their concerns. During times of change it’s important to explain what’s happening and get their input to keep them involved in the solution. He added:

“These behaviours have been around for years and just need to be adapted for the online interactions that we’re all taking part in more of. There are a similar set of key high performing behaviours that leaders need to do, it’s just that they’re applying it in a different environment. People might find it a bit awkward, but the reality is that it’s happening.”

Leadership Power Skills

“I think previously a lot of leaders have relied more on just looking to see what people were doing. This isn’t the case now and they’re having to adapt, which many leaders have found uncomfortable — they can’t see what their teams are doing. Software that monitors, tracks and manages keystrokes and activity are just testament to this lack of trust.”

Dave said that he completely agreed and that this has been a key issue for the digital shift that the workplace is undergoing. He said that in his experience, leaders are intelligent and focused on results but they don’t always work to develop talent and trust in the workplace.

He linked this to automation and jobs of the future, adding that the skills that robots and automation can’t do — like listening, questioning, understanding, solving complex problems that don’t just rely on logic. Developing talent will be a ‘power skills’ in the workplace of the future. These skills all drive leaders’ behaviour, and referring to them as ‘soft’ skills does them a disservice.

The leader as a Talent Magnet

“High performing leaders create an environment that makes people want to succeed, engage with them and help them to grow. They’re choosing to join the leader of that organisation as well as the organisation. He said that he felt that a digital leader could definitely be a talent magnet for an organisation.”

Re-energising teams, mentorship and inspiring performance to a different level are going to become more and more important for leaders. It isn’t necessarily a new situation, as many people have joined businesses as they believed in leadership throughout time.

Dave said: “There are all sorts of different metrics that can be introduced in this type of approach. These will effectively make leaders and managers have to change their mindset and behave differently. Development of teams is no longer going to be part of someone else’s responsibility, the onus will be on them.”

Amanda raised an earlier point that Dave had made about the fact that going forward authenticity was likely to become a capability. She mentioned that she was interested to hear more about that and how HR teams would need to take this into consideration.

In response to this, Dave acknowledged that employees had leaned on each other in different ways and got to know one another a little more. His interpretation was that this has made people more authentic in themselves, as people understand one another more.

“Leaders also need to start to care and bring that authenticity. Care isn’t necessarily a word that you associate with leadership, but I do think that leaders need to start to show more care at their core.”

They need to show interest in the person as a whole, not just as an employee or as a resource.

Leaders also need to demonstrate more awareness of work-life balance. This has become extremely blurred in the current environment. There can’t just be the expectation that emails will be responded to overnight or that employees are always available. It’s about seeing your employees as people — and that’s a key part of being a talent magnet.

He likened it to issues such as diversity, equality and inclusion, pointing out that these would only become a true part of the workplace. It’s down to the leaders to make it happen at all levels, and making people feel valued and important, and that they matter to the leadership team. It goes back to authenticity and actually demonstrating that people are valued.

Amanda added that the relationship between work and personal life is being redefined, shifting and changing to become more sensitive to needs outside of work. For example if people are juggling children at home along with work. Previously, leaders were at a distance and authoritative but now it feels warmer and more embracing, understanding the human element of the workplace.

Dave related to this and again said the current situation had made things a little more trusting, connected and human, adding:

“I think we’ve got too hung up on the old world of command and control when really we should be looking at performance and development with employers understanding and demonstrating their responsibility in that. Leaders and managers need to provide that role modelling that everyone always talks about.”

He also acknowledged that the future is all of our responsibility, not just that of leadership and that every employee also has that responsibility in making it happen. Breaking through the barriers and being authentic is important at all levels.

He said: “There’s such a lot of interesting stuff out there, and not all of this is going to work or be the right fit. It’s important to stretch your mind, and take it back to a growth mindset vs a fixed mindset. That growth perspective for yourself, your organisation and how the two combined.”

Dave then moved on to his own experiences and his motivations for starting to become more active on Twitter and Linkedin. He no longer felt excited by being a consultant and wanted to do something different that would challenge him and help him to learn and grow. He identified this willingness to continually learn as essential in the business world. You need the ability to learn and unlearn things, and to keep that external perspective.

He also said that focusing on your own growth was important too and to look at opportunities and situations to see how they can lead to further growth in the future. Productivity, external knowledge and continuous learning are critical.

Dave Milner is an international speaker who promotes the role of technology in HR. He is the author of An Introduction to People Analytics which details the changing role of HR and the increasing demand for data insights. You can find out more about Dave on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn. You can view the full Conversation on YouTube.