The world desperately needs a new style of leader.

Covid-19 has exposed the leadership skills and capabilities all leaders need to help organisations thrive in, and after a crisis. This is a time bomb that’s been ticking for years, but Covid has brought it into stark relief.

As countries navigate through the pandemic, it’s women leaders and their capabilities that are winning out. That’s something to celebrate as we mark International Women’s Day this week.

Call me Mark … or Peter … or David

But in New Zealand, we’ve still got an issue in our top 50 publicly listed companies – a 2019 survey showed the CEOs of these firms who were called Mark outnumbered all the women CEOs.

And it has only got worse. There are now also more leaders called Peter than there are women leading our biggest companies. And more called David than there are women as well.

For a decade and more, the research, experts and psychological testing that support senior leadership teams have told us that different skills were needed to steer organisations to success.

And yet old models of leadership still prevail in many places. Our first woman CEO of a listed company, Telecom’s Theresa Gattung, used to bemoan the ‘John Wayne’ style of leadership. The continuum of leadership in our business organisations still includes this swagger and shoot approach, we still see leadership based on technical expertise, and sometimes even senior ‘leaders’ providing no real leadership at all.

Could Covid-19 be the circuit breaker needed to truly re-orientate our leadership styles, models, and desired skills and capabilities?

Leadership in a crisis

During Covid-19, women have been rated as the best leaders to have in a crisis.

Harvard Business Review data collected during Covid scored women higher than men on most leadership competencies needed during the pandemic. At work, engagement levels were higher where women led, as respondents put higher value on skills such as:
•    inspiring and motivating
•    relationships
•    collaboration
•    honesty
•    integrity
•    sensitivity and understanding of the new stresses borne out by Covid-19.

And we’re warned  about the future by Deloitte’s in their new 2021 Global Human Capital Trends for a disrupted world post-Covid. They declare that “making the shift from survive to thrive depends on an organisation becoming distinctly human at its core… approaching every question, every issue and every decision from a human angle first”.

Add these things together and you’ve got the formula for people-centred leadership that has always existed – but is now ignored at organisational, team and society’s peril.

What does true people-centred leadership look like?

People create success in teams and organisations.

Leaders who understand this and put people at the centre, valuing their skills, diversity, contribution and out of work lives will always get better results than those leaders who put their own personal career aspirations, CV, systems and process and profit first.

Global leadership experts and research describe the most valuable capabilities needed to create great organisations.

These include integrity, honesty, empathy, relationship building, communication, self-development, developing others, inspiring and motivating others, collaboration, champions of change, innovation, taking initiative and having resilience.

Research (and there are many like this) from Harvard Business Review and Zenger Folkman reveals women outscore men in 17 out of these 19 competencies.

This isn’t new, so why haven’t we got there yet?

Learning to change how to lead

Gail Kelly, the former CEO of Westpac Group Australia, was the first woman to hold this position, and is now an independent director. She has a leadership recipe practised for several decades. It’s worth noting, she also led her organisation through the Global Financial Crisis.

It’s an approach now being mirrored in teaching, writing and practice by leadership gurus and experts around the world.

She describes it as a ‘generous of spirit’ leadership style and it’s set out in her book Live, Lead, Learn.

At the heart of it is:
•    supporting people to love what they do
•    high collaboration
•    choosing to be positive
•    having a deep respect for peers and team members
•    ensuring the right people are in the right roles
•    living a whole life, where work is just one part of it.

If you’re a leader and you don’t have these skills, develop them. Kelly is adamant these leadership capabilities can be learnt and need to be for the sake of organisations and the workforce in the future.

What if we started making an honest assessment of our leadership against the capabilities identified here, and we asked for help to learn how to do things better?

Who are the great people-centred leaders in New Zealand, and which organisations do they lead? What does it feel like working with these people?

If you’ve experienced genuine people-centred leadership, you’ll know the answers to these things.

What if we truly valued these leadership capabilities in our CEOs and senior leaders, and actively devalued the leadership traits and structures that promote silos, competition, hierarchy, self-interest and profit before culture and people?

Even better, why don’t we deliberately share, promote, celebrate and reward people-centred or generous of spirit leadership just like we celebrate and promote women on International Women’s Day?

To find out more about the skills needed for the future, as described in “Live Lead Learn” book listen to Anna Hughes’ ‘Books That Work’ podcast on Apple or Spotify, or at

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