I recently surveyed a range of senior leaders, to explore their experience of leading businesses during covid-19. The response was both heart-warming and galvanising. 

Leaders REALLY want to make a difference. And in order for that difference to be effective and sustainable in a changing world, there is a real and urgent need for a new approach to the BEING of leadership.

Here, I’ll share five themes identified in the data regarding the current experience of leaders and, crucially, what needs to come next.

Theme 1: Human connection

Spoiler alert: leaders are human beings. Asked how they’re feeling right now, people fell into three buckets:

  • Struggling (45%) – phrases such as ‘not enough’, ‘lost’, ‘faking it’, ‘alone’.
  • In limbo (25%) – phrases such as ‘in transition’, ‘disrupted’, ‘on a tightrope’, ‘locked in’.
  • Thriving (30%) – phrases such as ‘energised’, ‘pretty good’, ‘confident’.

Regardless of their mood, what leaders REALLY care about is being available to support others. One of the key challenges for leaders right now is the lack of direct connection. We are social animals, and our nervous systems simply cannot co-regulate as easily via technology.  To overcome this, leaders need to share their humanity more than ever in order to connect with those they lead, daring to be vulnerable and prioritising their own wellbeing.

Theme 2: Getting clear and centred

Many leaders simply feel overwhelmed. They’re craving more time, more clarity and fewer distractions. And it’s a vicious cycle – when we are unclear on priorities, we are more easily distracted. For many leaders, too much is being asked of them and they feel like they can’t make any headway. 

In a tidal wave of uncertainty, trusting your intuition is paramount. Your intuition is the sum of all the intelligence within you – cognitive, emotional, physical and spiritual – and will allow you to filter out unnecessary or unhelpful information. When there IS no perfect choice, you must learn to trust your inner voice above the external noise.

Theme 3: The gifts of lockdown

The majority of leaders interviewed feel that lockdown has given them space, but also thrown them in the deep end of a swimming pool. There, they’ve become aware of the essential quality that allows them to stay afloat as a leader in uncertainty; whether that’s resourcefulness, resilience, focus, crisis management, authenticity or honesty. 

The question that remains for many leaders is how to sustain the positive impacts of lockdown, as we transition into the unknown. Which leads us onto…

Theme 4: Prioritising balance

As we emerge from the height of lockdown, 70% of leaders said they want to focus on family, balance, or their own wellbeing. An enforced change in lifestyle has shown many of us the impact of the choices we’ve made between work and life. And a new set of choices has been revealed. 

Interestingly, leaders seem to feel “too needed” within their organisation, which prevents them from dedicating more energy to family and self. This might be to do with the structure of the organisation not providing enough space for everyone to contribute, or it might be that we unconsciously hold onto our significance and ‘power’, blocking ourselves from being able to get the balance we crave.

Theme 5: What’s next?

There is a sense of inevitability to the fact that life and leadership will be different from this point on. In response to the question “what’s most important for you to achieve in the next year?’, the glaring theme was CHANGE. Whether that’s a new role, a business pivot, a shift in balance, new revenue streams or new clients. Not a single leader said anything resembling ‘getting back to normal’. The question people are holding is “how do I thrive as a leader now?”

I believe that a more soulful approach to leadership is the answer. But what does that actually mean? Well, here are five elements that I believe will be fundamental to thriving as a leader (and a human) in the years ahead:

  1. Letting go of outcomes. The most effective and peaceful leaders I work with are those who are clear on their INTENTION (for strategy, revenue, structure etc), take considered action towards them, and then release any attachment to the outcome. It allows for new opportunities to emerge, and for energy to be spent on CREATING, rather than fixating on a ‘goal’ that is never fully within your control. 
  2. A renewed focus on purpose. Purpose is a ‘north star’ that inspires us beyond the day-to-day activities of life, and as such it provides an anchor in a sea of change. And you need to be clear on your purpose as a leader, even more so than the purpose of the organisation you lead.
  3. Prioritising wellbeing. I was asked once if I coach for performance or wellbeing, and my response was “how on Earth can you perform if you are not well?”. Understanding the practices that deplete and recharge you, will allow you to lead with mind, heart and soul.
  4. New ways of connecting with your people (and I DON’T mean more Zoom meetings…). To thrive as a leader in the future, you will need to connect with those you lead on a much deeper level. You must allow yourself to be vulnerable, and to trust yourself and others, secure in the knowledge that these qualities are your greatest strength. And to be able to connect with others in this way, you have to start by getting much more connected with yourself.
  5. Clear boundaries and bold decisions. The antidote to overwhelm is to get crystal clear on your boundaries. But I don’t just mean the tasks you’ll delegate to others. I mean your energetic boundaries – how you protect yourself from absorbing opinions, emotions, fears or priorities that are not yours, but that belong to people or bodies outside of you. Being crystal clear on YOUR opinions, emotions, fears and priorities means that you can easily make bold decisions that are aligned with your truth as a leader.

I coach senior leaders to trust themselves, make bolder decisions and inspire others. To learn more about this model of soulful leadership, or to have a conversation about your own experiences of leadership right now, you can find me at www.victoriasmithmurphy.com, [email protected], or on LinkedIn or Instagram.