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New research, which provides insights into what it is like to lead in Ireland, was launched by the Irish Centre for Business Excellence Skillnet and undertaken by the KBS Work Futures Lab at the University of Limerick.

These new insights into what it is like to lead in Ireland today were revealed in the ‘Sustainable Leadership for a Post-Digital Age’ study of senior business leaders.

Leaders called for a new style of leadership to fit this post pandemic world of work with many seeing a need for a shift to a more distributed and horizontal form of leadership to fit this post pandemic world of work.

Many senior leaders express high levels of satisfaction with hybrid working, which creates a more sustainable working environment with greater flexibility and improved work life balance. However, some report significant challenges including how to operationalise flexible working practices (FWPs) in their organisations, multigenerational workforces, digital transformation as well as global concerns such as climate, energy and the economy.

Developing sustainable leadership capabilities

Paul Healy, Chief Executive, Skillnet Ireland,  said: “Our talented and skilled workforce, including our business leadership, is at the heart of Ireland’s economic competitiveness. ICBE Business Excellence Skillnet’s report, developed in partnership with the Kemmy Business School at UL, provides a clear picture of the importance of the leader’s role in steering an organisation in uncertain times and offers some powerful insights on trends towards a model of sustainable leadership. Skillnet Ireland looks forward to playing its fullest role in developing the sustainable leadership capabilities required for challenges such as digitalisation and climate change.”

The research confirmed that the style and skills that brought today’s leaders to the top of the organisation will not sustain organisations into the future. The business leaders call for a new style of leadership to fit this post pandemic world of work.

Eamonn Murphy, Managing Director, ICBE, said: “Ensuring sites remain strategically relevant amidst the growing trend of de-globalisation is a key concern for leaders in Ireland. Many of those interviewed said hybrid work is having mixed results. It can lead to increased inclusivity and connectivity, but it can also prove harder to influence and negotiate at corporate level, with fewer opportunities to sell an idea or secure investment.”

Human-centric approach to work

The findings highlight how digitalisation has transformed the nature of work and the structure and context of organisations. This shift has heightened the importance of a human centric approach to leadership and the need to transition from the traditional autocratic style of leadership towards a collaborative and collective leadership philosophy.

The principal investigator on the study Sarah Kieran, Assistant Dean of the KBS Academy, said: “Leaders in Ireland today are challenging the traditional norms of leadership because they can see that the romanticised view of leadership, the hero-leader at the top of the organisation, is not relevant for the times we live in. They recognise that leadership must be encouraged and sustained down through the organisation and know a more human-centric approach to work is the only way forward. They believe that without significant changes in organisations the next generation will not step up to lead.”

In her contribution to this research Carolan Lennon, Country Lead, Salesforce Ireland noted: “What do you have to be to be a leader now? You have to be comfortable with not following the path of previous leaders. In fact, you need to figure out what you need to break.”

A significant outcome of this study was the need for self-regulation as a leader, the ability to manage one’s time, priorities and emotions as one navigates the challenges that the current world of business presents. Leaders also recognise the need for a safe environment for senior leaders to learn from and sustain each other.

Leaders stress the importance of having a strong network of like-minded people to support their journey. In response ICBE in collaboration with the Kemmy Business School will, later this year, launch a new programme to facilitate this type of peer-to-peer networking.

The complete report is available here.

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