1 in 3 managers find leadership more challenging in the hybrid era

19th April

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Home working is at its highest ever level, but the shift to hybrid working is causing headaches for one in three managers who say it has changed leadership for the worse.

The claim comes from new research conducted by the online learning platform Coursera in conjunction with remote leadership champion Gitlab.

A total of 1,000 managers employed in the UK, United States, India, Australia, Mexico, France, Germany and Saudi Arabia participated in the Making the Modern Leader which explores the nature of contemporary leadership, the skills today’s leaders need to connect, inspire and thrive and the key areas of leadership that organisations should focus on.

What has worsened in hybrid leadership?

According to the research, the biggest resulting challenges created for managers in a hybrid environment are:

  • Ignoring work-life boundaries (38%)
  • Neglecting team morale and company culture (37%)
  • Communicating with credibility (30%)
  • Prioritising the wrong kind of things (29%)
  • Micromanagement (27%)
  • Failing to evaluate performance (27%)
  • Little growing and little learning (26%)

The research also outlines what leaders should master in challenging times such as now as we face economic uncertainty. It found that leaders who prioritise empathy, compassion, and patience (29%), are visible and open (26%), and are masters of change management (25%) are preferred when times get tough.

The rise of the middle management

The Making of a Modern Leader also identified the increasing importance of middle managers and individual contributors in driving company culture and organisational performance.

It emphasises that many less experienced employees, particularly middle managers, have higher expectations placed upon them when it comes to leadership. From motivating peers to maintaining company culture, they are on the front line with their teams, whilst also having to answer to senior leadership on performance and business results.

Middle managers included in the research said that motivating teams and leading by example were their top leadership priorities (57%), followed closely by setting clear goals (54%), encouraging teamwork (51%), and empowering team members (48%).

But as the report states, because of the culmination of turbulent external factors and the pressures of leading without the requisite support or training, middle managers overseeing one to six people reported feeling more stressed and less productive than senior executives managing 15-plus employees.

Leading with the right training

Without the proper training middle managers can be at a disadvantage. Inexperience and the lack of key competencies can lead to burnout for them and potential problems with productivity levels or their relationships with other team members or their direct reports.

Employers need to ensure that those with any responsibility for leading or managing others have had the correct development first. 

Traditional management has normally favoured giving direction and telling others what to do, but the modern manager is increasingly being expected to have a coaching mindset or coaching skills. This leadership or management model is designed around enabling individuals to find their own solutions. If executed well, it helps boost engagement and collaboration as the manager facilitates the development of others to help lift performance and productivity.

As Karen Smart, who heads up the AoEC’s coaching for companies’ consultancy services says: “We talk a lot about accidental managers and remote working has compounded this by making some elements of good leadership and management trickier to do. Competencies such as clear communication skills and giving constructive feedback have become more awkward because we are not all in the office at the same time.

“It means that employers have to pay closer attention to ensuring that their managers are equipped with stronger interpersonal skills so that the quality of work is not impacted. Getting management right is one of the most important things an employer can do and coaching can help create the right mindset and behaviours for employees to be happy and able to thrive.”