Rethinking Leaders in a Hybrid Work Environment — Desperado Diaries

Rethinking Leaders in a Hybrid Work Environment

Ever since we first faced the ‘new normal’ we’ve been navigating through changes, disruptions and all kinds of adaptations in many different areas of our lives.

We’re constantly challenged to rethink how we lead ourselves and others. We’re also reminded of just how important HR teams’ support is to organisations and their development.

This time around we’ve decided to talk to Ivana Nason, Organizational Development consultant, and Kristina Grubač, HR Lead at Two Desperados.

But before we get to insights into their lines of work respectively, here’s a short introduction to the idea of leadership that’s being challenged in today’s work context.

In their Harvard Business Review article published last year, Aneel Chima and Ron Gutman, inspired by conversations at Stanford University, talked about ‘Sapient Leadership’ based on three dimensions of change that are perpetual, pervasive and exponential. This kind of leadership style puts an anti-heroic leader at the center of attention, who exhibits authenticity, humility and vulnerability. The authors argue that “the days of ‘leader as hero’—the solo, individualistic leader who inspires certainty in a deterministic way forward—are over.”

Ivana, you have over 20 years of experience in helping organizations develop their talent, with a background in medicine. In all those years, you have probably witnessed many nuances of leadership and company cultures. How would you describe an effective leader? Would you agree with the statement that “the days of a leader as a hero are over”?

Ivana: Hi Tamara, thanks for creating this space for reflection.

I would describe an effective leader as a reflective leader—somebody with a huge capacity to understand what is going on and to make sense of things, to deeply engage in a joyful practise of not only achieving certain goals but living a healthy organisational life. Every day. In an adaptive way.

I strongly believe that good leaders are actually mature, responsible citizens.

How does Hybrid Work affect the concept of leadership? Are there any skills or traits that have come forward as crucial in handling both offline and online collaboration?

Ivana: I am learning new ways of working myself. Even though I have been working in a hybrid way since 2007 more or less (we called it flexible working), this is different. In the past, we could choose when to do something F2F and when to just work virtually (for months sometimes). But now it’s not only the distance but also the virus that factors in. There is a huge difference between having a choice and not having a choice.

Kristina: We were a team that worked together from the office before the pandemic started. Shifting to new working models and adjusting to the significant growth we experienced in 2020 and 2021, required adaptation on our end and gaining new skills. Echoing what Ivana said, we are still learning.

Thinking of the changes we had to go through, a lot of conscious effort was invested in creating and maintaining strong relationships between leadership and team members. Building on strong trust was an emerging topic that turned out to be instrumental in hybrid work mode. It takes time, but also intention on everyone’s part.

Fast-growing companies usually face many challenges that need to be addressed fast, but also on a continuous basis. Recently we’ve noticed the term psychological safety being used more often in the workspace. What would you underline as important for those who are leading teams that have grown fast during the pandemic? 

Kristina: It is never an easy task to invite team members to a changing process and explore novel approaches while still delivering on their day-to-day work. It is at this exact moment that the existing trust is essential in transitioning us to this new way of thinking and working. The Leadership Program, discussions with Ivana as our Organisational Development consultant, and conversations amongst ourselves, brought into focus this ongoing need for adaptability. You mention psychological safety—you have adaptability emerging from that concept…

Attuning yourself as a leader to these important concepts (adaptability and psychological safety) is somewhat like looking at Magic Eye Illusion pictures. Suddenly out of the multiplicity of shapes and colours comes a picture.

Ivana: I believe that Two Desperados leaders know very well what people need in order to feel safe—what we are working on is their capacity to create and hold space for psychological safety—capacity to work both with openness and with boundaries, and many more aspects of everyday organisational life that requires continuous integration (for example: pausing to attend psychological needs in the middle of a pressing deadline; or what to do with psychological defences that take up energy from the task of my team; or dealing with verbal attacks, narrow-mindedness, provocations, sadness, mourning etc).

The Two Desperados team has embarked on a Leadership Development Program that will last for almost a year. Which topics will be addressed? Is there any advice you would give to CEOs and others in decision-making positions?

Ivana: The Two Desperados Leadership Development Program has looked at leadership from four different perspectives so far: leading self, others, workforce (human resources) and teams. We are halfway through and many other organisational development initiatives are ongoing at the same time (for example: from creating the vision to creating tangible strategy, organisational design, flexible teams where relevant and from being stuck to getting unstuck, etc).

Regarding advice for CEOs and other leaders, I would encourage them to look at their organisational development systemically, to talk to organisational development consultants and get outside ideas.

Kristina: The opportunity to work with an Organisational Development consultant as a representative of the HR team for the growing organisation was a truly rewarding experience.

Reflecting on the needs of the organisation and making changes based on the conclusions developed through this partnership with organisational development consultant, was a very exciting learning path.

Working on a custom made leadership development program is a project I would definitely repeat again if given the opportunity. From previous discussions, it seems as if leaders are aware that there is a need for this type of initiative—it is keeping a thread and discussion going, promoting adaptability and working to find the right fit for these initiatives.

Tamara Milovanović Comms Specialist