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Are We Becoming Managers, Not Leaders? Leadership in Today’s Hybrid Workplace

Disruption in the Workplace, Human Resources, Leadership, Future of Work

In the midst of our world being propelled ever forward by the rapid advancement of technology, the concept of a traditional ‘office’ is increasingly becoming a relic of the past. The advent of hybrid workplaces, where employees split their time between working remotely and onsite, has led to a seismic shift in the way we work. But as we adopt these new norms, an interesting question arises: Are we inadvertently transitioning from being leaders to managers in this modern workplace environment?

The difference between a manager and a leader, while seemingly subtle, is quite profound. Traditionally, managers are individuals who ‘manage’ people, resources, and tasks to meet organizational objectives. They maintain the status quo, focusing primarily on systems and processes. Leaders, on the other hand, inspire and motivate their team towards a shared vision. They foster innovation, and often challenge the status quo. Far from suggesting a separation of leadership and management, my argument underlines the inherent necessity for businesses to have both effective leadership and skilled management, attributes that may occasionally coexist within a single person. However, what I aim to highlight is a discernible trend leaning more towards the practices traditionally associated with management.

With the shift towards hybrid workplaces, it’s possible that we’re leaning towards the manager spectrum. The tools we use for remote work, while effective, are largely transactional in nature. Email, project management software, video conferencing, etc., are geared towards managing tasks and monitoring productivity. They facilitate management, but do they truly enable leadership?

The rise of ‘managing by metrics’, where performance is predominantly measured using quantifiable metrics, is a clear indication of this trend. However, are these metrics capturing the full essence of an employee’s work? Can we measure creativity, innovation, and risk-taking? Does this culture of constant evaluation stifle the potential for leadership?

To frame this discussion, let’s consider transformational leadership, a style of leadership often hailed for its effectiveness in inspiring and motivating teams to exceed their personal goals and achieve the overarching goals of the organization. Transformational leaders lead by example, using the strength of their vision and personality to incite change. In a traditional office setting, this involves a lot of face-to-face communication, personal interactions, and leading by doing.

However, in the context of hybrid workplaces, the transformational leadership model faces new challenges. With much of the interaction now mediated by technology, the direct, personal connection that these leaders thrive on may be dampened. While virtual meetings and digital communication tools are effective for managing tasks, they may not fully capture the charisma and personal dynamism that transformational leaders bring to their teams.

Moreover, transformational leaders often employ ‘individualized consideration’, understanding the unique needs and abilities of their team members, and tailoring their approach accordingly. However, gaining this nuanced understanding becomes more challenging in a remote or hybrid setting. The impromptu check-ins and casual conversations, which offer insights into an employee’s state of mind, are harder to come by, potentially affecting the effectiveness of a transformational leader.

Yet, it’s not all gloomy. The hybrid workplace also presents opportunities to foster leadership, even transformational leadership. With greater autonomy and flexibility, employees have the space to innovate and take ownership of their work. For transformational leaders, this could mean finding innovative ways to inspire and motivate remotely, maintaining the individualized consideration they’re known for even in a virtual environment, and using technology to amplify their vision and lead by example. The question we must grapple with is how we can effectively integrate leadership models into today’s technologically defined modern workplace environments.

As we continue to adapt to the changing face of work, it’s important to reflect on the impact this has on our roles within the workplace. Let us not forget the value and importance of leadership in driving innovation and inspiring teams towards a shared vision. As we navigate the intricacies of the hybrid workplace, let’s strive to retain our roles as leaders, not just managers.

As we ponder these questions together, I encourage you to share your thoughts, experiences, and insights on the matter. How can leadership adapt and thrive in a hybrid work environment? I look forward to your comments.

Written by: Cameron Stockdale, Ed.D, LLM, MA

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