Leading and learning by example

Dominique Powrie of DDI on a new leadership era

Leading and learning by example

“It’s the job of every child to make their parent feel old,” laughs Dominique Powrie over the laptop screen. “But it’s amazing to think that my kids don’t have any conception of a pre-internet world.”

The point seems particularly salient in the closing days of 2020; if it were this time in 2019, the interview may well have been taking place in person. But the COVID-19 pandemic has upended any sense of normalcy, rendering a great deal of communication impossible without the aid of technology. And if we flash back a few years earlier – even as recently as 2015, Powrie notes – the situation might have been entirely unmanageable with the frameworks that were in place at the time.

Unimaginable for her children perhaps, but a potential disaster that Powrie is all too glad to have avoided. As Managing Consultant at DDI, Powrie is keenly aware of the stakes currently facing HR professionals around the country – and indeed, the world.

“There’s nothing like a crisis to focus attention,” says Powrie. “The good news is that plenty of companies already had a digital platform in place to facilitate virtual communication, and so when it became apparent that businesses needed to change the way they operated with the shift to remote work, it was a pretty quick and smooth process for most.”

But once the immediate crisis had been dealt with, Powrie notes, it was time to move into a transformational mindset. 

“The most obvious shift from our standpoint was that there needed to be changes in the ways that leaders were actually leading in this environment,” says Powrie. “Certainly it highlighted even more what great leadership looks like in this context and what it doesn’t. It’s also encouraging that we’re seeing mental health and systems to support people’s well-being increasingly on senior leader and board agendas.

Powrie is also adamant for the need for ongoing learning and development during this period, stressing that it’s not something that can be sidelined.

“When you’re in crisis mode, you need people to respond to crisis, so learning’s not necessarily a priority,” says Powrie. “But workplace staff and leaders alike are facing real challenges at the moment, and you need to assess what tools and support they need to get through them. Learning and development is still very much part of that process. You’re leaving too much to chance if you’re not supporting them.”

The challenge now, as Powrie sees it, is for leaders to create environments where employees can be their authentic selves and perform effectively under the current set of pressures.

“I don’t think good leadership is a static quality,” explains Powrie. “Leadership is ultimately defined by what you do and how you do it. But different contexts require different leadership approaches, and someone who’s a good leader in one context won’t necessarily be successful in another.  Leaders must leverage or learn specific capabilities, experiences and even attributes that are specific to the times in which they’re leading.

We’re living in a digital era, Powrie says, and accordingly digital-era leadership needs to be about new capabilities such as digital literacy, hyper-collaboration and leading virtually. But, also the ever-green capabilities such as fostering teamwork, innovation,, breaking down silos and unleashing the potential of employees are just as important.

“I don’t want to pretend all these things are easy, either,” says Powrie. “If your team has been working from home, or in a hybrid structure, just keeping up with them can be challenging in itself. We’re all dealing with very similar challenges – handling home pressures like never before, being tired, stressed, uncertain, and concerned about job security – they’re all very real considerations. So leaders need to have the ability to handle their own emotions and show empathy.  We need to connect with people and be cognisant of how we help each other.” 

“Good leaders need to have authenticity, purpose, empathy and emotional intelligence,” says Powrie. “But ultimately, how leaders act, speaks much louder than what they say.” 

DDI’s virtual classroom  won a Gold Medal in the Learning & Development Category for this year’s HR Service Provider Awards

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