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Leadership in Flux: What has changed from the days of the pandemic?

Author: Dijana Vetturelli, CEO at qohubs

Four years ago, I wrote a blog post about my thoughts on the term "Leadership." The blog was written between two lockdowns, and then I was a speaker at the 4th HR conference organized by Lider Media and the U4HR Association. 
When we reflect on the past two years, it's clear that this pandemic has caused immense pain and suffering. However, it has also provided an opportunity for organizations to come together with new forms of leadership and collaboration, using the moment for organizations designed for people and value creation. 


As a brief reminder, remote work became a matter of course; new digital tools and communication channels were no longer a problem. ("Did someone say change aversion? Must be the cousin of the comfort zone we keep hearing about.")

Many people involved in leadership, new work, and organizational development have predicted that how we work together will change forever. Now, two years after the lockdowns, let's reflect on what has changed regarding "leaders." I will share my previous observations and would like you to compare them with the current reality in organizations. Afterward, answer for yourself: What has changed?




After a long time this week, I felt I was finally truly alive. As the speakers at the 4th HR conference organized by Lider Media and the U4HR Association, I decided to hold a presentation on "Organizational agility - leadership is changing, or leadership is changing" in a conference hall (instead of online). Although the hall, which can fit almost 150 people, was filled with only about 20 people, including the organizational staff, I had the opportunity to enjoy real interaction and hear interesting thoughts and presentations.

And while I should be overwhelmed with positive emotions, the feeling of irritation caused by certain statements and choice of words prevailed.

Unfortunately, in the 21st century, we still have to listen to how leaders and managers should "manage people" or, even better, "subordinates." We could hear about how leadership decreases at each hierarchical level, and how leaders should motivate and manage people instead of behaving like disinterested marionettes.

Listening to some statements, I was concerned about the level of unawareness of how much power is hidden in certain words, the presence of a way of thinking, and how people are seen and treated in a business context: either as children and/or as machines, which are not capable of thinking or creating if we do not lubricate them with all leadership tools and skills.


Language creates reality


Every spoken word evokes a series of images in our heads, and if I hear how they should treat their "subordinates," my alarm lights light up. Just a quick reminder - subordinate means "of lesser importance." Nor did I find comfort in the concept of servant leadership. Servantly, servants - well, no one serves anyone - formally authorized managers of the company should be the creators of the fluid-structure which creates value and not, as suggested, motivate people. When that lesson and image are adopted, it will be easier for many leadership thinkers, who only with a slightly more attractive packaging, continue to advocate and support the Taylorism "command & control" approach, to use a different vocabulary to create positive images that are tailored to man and human nature.


Life creator or unmotivated person?


Is anyone waiting for a great leader when they plan to renovate or build an apartment/house with their family members in their spare time? Now and then, "subordinates" become creators of their own lives, who know how to find quality information, know who can help them, and will discover the most fascinating details that will raise the quality of living in their home, with careful financial planning and without unnecessary waste of money. However, when that same person opens the office space's front door, he becomes a "subordinate" to whom someone must tell what and how to do something. A paradox, isn't it? So, in one environment, we have a creator of life; in another, the same person needs someone to motivate her and tell her when and how to do something. And that someone is, of course, either a leader or a manager, whatever you call them.


Some mention fairness, honesty, and humility, and I won't go on, but fairness does not come from a person but from the system's levers. If we remove the man from the crossword puzzle with the existence of fair organizational levers, the leader's role arising from that dimension disappears. Likewise - what does humility mean? In a system where everyone is aware of their role in the chain of value creation, it will quickly be understood that the managerial role is changing and that it cannot survive in isolation without all the other roles, so the question is, why is humility necessary if we all contribute to value creation?!

Let's think that someone is not contributing to value creation. We should ask ourselves a whole series of other questions - for example, if the smallest unit for value creation is a team, can we observe a person in isolation without interaction and the context in which they are expected to create? I doubt it at all, and this is precisely what the leadership thinkers suggest, forgetting that we are human, social beings, and self-realization comes from learning, interaction, and reflection.

The image of the superhero

And with awareness of the role, it is high time to choose your words more carefully. We create images with every statement that labels the leader with superhero adjectives. An image that says everything is in the hands of the leader, so I don't even have to try, I don't have to think, I'm not here to think anyway. Hearing that I am a subordinate means that I am worth less than a superior person. Really?! Isn't it time to put it into perspective and change the board? Who creates, for whom, and what? Is bureaucratic reporting, planning far from the market, and controlling the quality of work something that creates the image that a "superior" person is of higher quality, more significant, and more valuable than a person who is in direct contact with a client in a branch, and who, with his smile and creativity very often has to smooth out all the systemic errors that are the result of managerial decisions.

We don't need creativity

We also heard that in production, people don't need to think and be creative, but they need clear regulations and procedures?! If so, why haven't we already replaced them with robots and fully automated production? What would the leaders of Toyota say to such statements, whose entire business philosophy and success is built on Lean production, which Elon Musk also took over? For example, a year and a half ago, an article about automation and robotization in Toyota was published in the German media, which revealed how, in 2015, the vice president of the company, Mitsuru Kawai, threw out the first robots and returned humans to a particular production facility. For example, their futuristic Mirai vehicle is assembled entirely by hand. Why? Because production also requires creativity and a thinking employee.


Thinking tools

It is interesting how arguments will always be sought to confirm our assumptions because, as Goran Vlašić from the Institute for Innovation mentioned, the human brain will always return us to the familiar. There is no greater risk of success because we will continue to claim that our approach and way of thinking is the only right one.

That's why it's time to replace ready-made solutions and recipes with "thinking tools," to start questioning organizational dynamics instead of looking for mistakes in people, to accept that, by nature, people are motivated, creative beings who are ready to take responsibility and eager for self-realization, and that by opening the office door in the value creation system, we encounter a lot of illogical obstacles and irritations, which ultimately result in our reduced interest and demotivated behavior.

Sometimes, we verbalize these obstacles more quickly, and often, due to busyness and stress, we cannot look at what is happening and where it is necessary to look for a systemic error. Still, the error is in processes and the organizational system, not people. Or as W. Edwards Deming discovered and concluded long ago:

"94% of problems in business are systems driven, and only 6% are people driven."

People do not need a great leader who will act as an educator or a superior but neither as a servant. They need organizational frameworks built for self-organizing and market-oriented value creation and designed to fit the human.


If you want to prepare your leadership team to deal with complexity and complex questions, drop us a line via or contact us to schedule an Experience Session now.


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