Claudia Ferguson
Claudia Ferguson

Improving leadership capabilities is crisis critical

by Claudia Ferguson. One of the biggest challenges we face today is leadership. Not whether we have enough leaders – but whether we have the right leaders.

by Claudia Ferguson. One of the biggest challenges we face today is leadership. Not whether we have enough leaders – but whether we have the right leaders. One just has to look around the world and realise that positions of power don’t automatically make a leader. However, the notion of what makes a good leader is a topic that has fascinated people for years – and of course there is no simple answer.

If we consider the melting pot of culture and generations, the raised expectations from a productivity and always-on businesses; to the do-more-with-less movement we find ourselves in, not to mention the role of technology, the future of work has businesses and their leaders in a state of flux. Not only do they have to reevaluate their policies and procedures, but very importantly, how they operate today while still paving the foundations for the road of the future. And it certainly isn’t easy – one just has to look at the impact of COVID-19 on the business landscape to truly realise how quickly and drastically things change.

Let’s be honest, leadership methods that worked in the past aren’t going to cut it moving forward. The technological and demographic shift in itself, requires fresh thinking. The public court of opinion demands transparency and accountability, together with unprecedented communication skills – all while the market mandates agility and a resolve to navigate the volatile landscape.

In fact, today business is about being on the same page as your employees, your customers and the community in which you operate and while this was always the case, it used to be on your terms, but now it’s on theirs. Employees want a safe space to work and grow; they want to know that their leaders have dealt with adversity and have learnt valuable lessons; and they want to be treated fairly, and with respect.

Improving leadership capabilities is going to be critical if business today really wants to not only weather the storm, but ultimately enhance performance; and to my mind, there are three leadership trends that they need to be cognisant of:

1. Focus on outputs, outtakes and outcomes

Gone are the days of 9 – 5 working hours. In fact, today employees don’t need to be in the office at all and the flexible workplace culture is no longer the hallmark of smaller, younger companies or even productivity. Today it’s no longer about the when or how, but more about what. Employees are looking for more flexibility, especially as they try to balance family, life and work – and of course when they are facing a pandemic. Businesses on the other hand are looking for more outputs and outcomes. Bringing the two together for the benefit of all those involved is essential and having the leadership skills and insight into these moving parts, as well as the maturity to provide support, will help deliver the outputs the business requires. This of course means focusing on a communication culture of respect and trust to bring it all together.

2. Creating a culture of accountability

Creating a culture of accountability across the board will be critical for the sustainability of any organization. Just as flexible workers need to be accountable for their own delivery, managers need to be accountable for building trust-based relationships. But very importantly, there needs to be a culture of accountability – authentically. This means that there needs to be common purpose, clear expectations need to be set, collaboration needs to be possible and results visible and this needs to be driven from the top down. Leaders need to become role models, teach, practice and reinforce this ownership and accountability mentality – they need to be viewed as providing a safe space for their employees to not only raise concerns, but to be able to share their views on their capabilities, admit mistakes and create the space for others to contribute. Leaders of the future cannot hide behind bureaucracy and legal teams; they need to be accountable and transparent about their actions. To achieve this, they need to foster an open mindset and curiosity about others – listen without judgment and seek to understand those around them.

3. Plan for new skills

There is a lot of talk about the future of the workplace and the skills that will drive us into the next century. With technology moving at the rate it is, automation evolving and artificial intelligence driving more opportunities, it is evident that some of the jobs today will become redundant in the future. As a result, people will need to acquire new skills and leaders will be critical in not only identifying the skills gap in the business and laying a foundation for skills development, but also guiding the organisation through redeploying skills and creating a culture which encourages development and influences change when it comes to viewing traditional jobs – and this means real collaboration and seeking real feedback – as what leaders do and say has an impact on others and the company itself.

There is so much discussion about what makes a successful leader – but for me, I suppose it’s how you define ‘successful’. Is it the size of the business and the teams they manage? Is it the profit they make? Is it their ability to inspire? Is it their ethics? Everyone’s success is different – but at the end of the day to be a true leader you need to not only understand the industry in which you operate, but you need to understand your customers, your people and understand the evolution needed. And in the face of adversity like we are currently experiencing with COVID-19, this has never been more critical as we face business unusual. It takes practice, but if you don’t start, you and your business risk being left behind – and that is the negative consequence of being a leader that no one wants.


Claudia Ferguson, has an impressive consulting career and her fair share of industry stories to tell. And she does exactly that – tell brand stories, backed by strategy and high-level consulting – all focused on impact. She believes in the power of the African continent, the value of insight and experience and the importance of relationships on the continent and beyond its borders. She thrives on challenge and as a Business Director at Orange Ink, her responsibilities include strategic business development for the agency and its client portfolio.

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