Back2Better: 5 Leadership Skills for the Digital Era with Herminia Ibarra

October 8, 2020

An Exclusive Collection of Resources for Navigating the Future of Organizations, Work and HR Post-COVID

Five Leadership Skills for the Future

We all work in organizations that are striving to be agile, customer-centric, innovative, tech savvy, human inclusive, and disruption-proof. Transitioning to these qualities can be very bumpy. What skill-set does it take to make the transition?

Herminia Ibarra,  Professor of Organizational Behavior at London Business School, agrees with Satya Nadella that the key to making the transition is becoming a learn-it-all instead of a know-it-all. Cultures must move away from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset that rewards risk, learning and smart failure to create lasting shifts.  Leaders must internalize and practice five leadership skills:

  • Cross-Cutting
  • Collaborating
  • Coaching
  • Culture Shaping
  • Connecting

Then, they must model and instill these skills in their team members while making sure they do not require that their team members become carbon copies of them.


People are notoriously bad at creating diverse networks because we like people who think like us. To develop a learning mindset, leaders must develop and foster networks that extend out and beyond the organization These networks allow leaders to sense opportunities and dangers, see trends, and firm up priorities.

Back2Better: Innovation invariably comes from outside. Virtual environments democratize and destroy hierarchies creating opportunities to engage and connect with people outside your network.  How can we foster these connections now and once we return to work?


 Leaders must foster psychological safety to increase team performance. Members must feel safe to dissent. The current environment of uncertainty feels less safe because employees may feel their job is at risk if they bring a different opinion to the table. Collaboration is benefitted by inclusivity and social sensitivity.

Back2Better: We need people to speak up. As teams become more diverse and more remote, it becomes even more important to create a sense of collaboration and safety. Especially in a virtual work environment, we must be more alert and monitor how inclusive our teams are and ask for more collaboration from those who may not feel inclined to participate.


The role of the leader must shift from task master and monitor to coach. Leaders must facilitate development and help team members unlock potential to maximize their performance. The manager-as-coach asks questions instead of providing answers, supports employees instead of judging them, and facilitates their development instead of dictating what has to be done.

Back2Better: Language is very important.  Ask questions like: What are you trying to accomplish? What is helping or not helping? What options have you tried? You must be willing to learn from the learner.  The virtual environment may provide an excellent opportunity to shift relationships.

Culture Shaping

Leaders can try to make changes but when those changes knock against established practices, the we’ve-always-done-it-this-ways, you must be willing to destroy the old order. Eliminate iconic practices and process and see what emerges from your team.

Back2Better: 2020 has seen the upheaval of business-as-usual.  What iconic practices or policies were upended at the beginning of the crisis that made you question their necessity? How can you destroy them and put more forward-thinking and innovative processes in their place?


Who are you as a leader and why should anyone be led by you? People want leaders who are authentic. Don’t use the word authenticity as an excuse not to get out of your comfort zone. Show your team that you are trying to learn and grow and that means vulnerability.  You cannot ask your team to be real without you being real for them.

Back2Better: A virtual environment requires more frequent and deeper communication. Check in with yourself.  Are you reflecting on your experiences and allowing them to help you grow? Let your team see this. Then, ask them to be authentic.


We have been presented with a chance of a lifetime—a ready-made disruption of our business models and our personal lives on a global scale. Take advantage of the opportunity to embrace a growth mindset and reevaluate priorities and practices.  Come to both your work and your life with more authenticity and reach outside of your traditional, comfortable network to collaborate with and learn from people who are not like you. This is where true innovation occurs.

To learn more about the Back2Better 50 Webinars in 50 Weeks series please visit here

If your team is dealing with similar issues or have questions you’d like answered please fill out the form below!

Back2Better: 5 Leadership Skills for the Digital Era with Herminia Ibarra

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