Currently crises are defining many parts of our everyday life, and our professional lives too. Martina Keck, Head of Daimler Truck Consulting, explains in an interview how important it is for leaders to pay more attention to employees’ needs, especially in times such as these.
Ms. Keck, in total, you can look back across 25 years’ professional experience as a consultant, executive coach, and moderator. What has been your personal maxim in your role as leader?
The privilege of accompanying and leading people means assuming responsibility for more than just myself. If this is supposed to happen successfully in a constantly changing environment, I have to constantly examine and develop my own thinking and actions.
As a Lean Management expert (Lean Six Sigma Black Belt), you focus intensively on the topic of transformation. In your view, what changes in the working world have been accelerated by the “crisis marathon” in recent years?
Today we are using IT to a much greater extent. Added to this is that we are suddenly holding videoconferences in people’s kitchens and living rooms. Previously, there was “the private sphere” and “the corporate sphere.” Now these have been all mixed up. And even more has happened below the surface. The changed way in which we work today has had massive effects on systematic aspects at companies.
Now as before, there are many leaders who associate leadership with control. But there are also enough employees who associate performance with being the first one to turn the lights on and the last one to turn them off. These and other once-successful mechanisms no longer work in the increasingly “new digital world.” The “system organization” was also quite disturbed. And this means that we not only have to establish new tools, but people in the organization have to examine and adapt their preferred patterns of behavior.
How much of this have companies already implemented?
On the one hand, we have all determined that we can exchange ideas and coordinate everything via Teams, Zoom & Co. On the other hand, we haven’t thought enough about how we conduct meetings and how we communicate there and can make everything more efficient.
Does new work require a new leadership style?
The challenge is not to lose the connection to the employees. For the feeling of belonging can be lost with less personal contact. If I can no longer “feel” my colleagues (body language, exchange between the lines, etc.), the connection suffers. At the same time, the feeling of insecurity increases since I am focusing increasingly on my own perspective and interpretations of the current situation. It’s necessary to create formats that are well-received by employees and do justice to their individual needs. Having lunch together every Tuesday and Thursday would certainly not be right. Here, leadership is a balancing act that requires great skill.
Have you adapted your own leadership style accordingly?
I have seen this balancing act in myself: First I have to get to know the employees in another way and query their individual needs, then do justice to those needs in digital form, create appropriate structures, and allow myself sufficient time to do this. The development of one’s own leadership personality is a continuous process.
In the future, will a leader have to be more someone who takes care of things instead of checking work results?
A leader is always only as good as the team as a whole. Therefore, leaders must consider how much time to invest in care for the team and in themselves as leader. Transformation should be regarded as an opportunity, and it can even be fun.
Can leaders learn to take greater care?
A seminar about how to take care or how to be empathetic is certainly doomed to failure. It’s better to learn from experience. In principle, I believe that coachings and guided group reflections are the “tool” of choice for helping leaders and teams in their development.
In the near future, will leaders still be required or will teams be able to work on their own?
I don’t believe that we can survive entirely without leaders. After all, self-organization of the team requires leadership. In the future, however, leaders will require a different portfolio to support this autonomy well. And everything that should be changed at a company must be exemplified authentically by its leaders. My personal opinion is that in the long term, companies will succeed primarily due to their culture. This “personality” of the organization will also determine which employers young talents will select in the future.