The New and Emerging Post-Pandemic Leadership Model
Adam Gates, Head of Odgers Connect, speaks to Tracey Groves, CEO & Founder of Intelligent Ethics, about her inspiring career as a Senior Executive and the future of leadership in a post-pandemic economy
During the past twelve months, business leaders across the globe have been faced with unprecedented economic challenges. As the economy is slowly picking up again, leaders need to be positioned in a way to adapt to new models of working, managing the return to work of their workforce, and driving forward transformations across their businesses to adapt to a new normality post-pandemic. Adam Gates, Head of Odgers Connect, had the pleasure of talking to Tracey Groves, CEO and Founder of Intelligent Ethics, an award-winning independent consultancy focusing on ethical leadership, about her extensive experience in advising leaders on ethical best practice and the role it plays in the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) agenda.
Adam: Tracey, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you have become a leading expert in leadership?
Tracey: I am very passionate about responsible business and ‘doing the right thing’. I spent over 26 years at PwC, latterly as a Partner in Forensic Services, where I established and led a client team specialising in Corporate Ethics and Business Integrity. When it comes to activating business purpose, embedding ethical values, and bringing to life what we mean by ‘doing the right thing’, you have to start at the top, with the leaders.
With my own consulting practice now, Intelligent Ethics, I advise senior business leaders in the design and development of measurable and evidence-based approaches that foster ethical and resilient cultures which are values-based, human-centred and importantly, aligned to business strategy. Leadership plays a disproportionate, critical part in turning this essential work into a reality, where inclusion, equality, responsibility, and trust are hardwired into the business DNA. Leaders are the culture champions, the role models who embody the mindset, beliefs, and desired behaviours, as well as the culture architects, who make sure that the right processes and procedures are in place to support those desired behaviours.
Adam: How has the Covid-19 pandemic changed leadership models in organisations? What role do purpose, authenticity and dignity play in moving forwards?
Tracey: The pandemic has brought into sharp relief those leaders who are able to engage with their people in an authentic way, earn trust through alignment of what they say and do (‘walk the talk’), and who are willing to be held accountable for their actions – and those leaders who are not.
From this time of heightened anxiety and uncertainty about our well-being and safety, the leaders we will remember positively are those who have inspired us with their honesty and compassion, shown strength of character through their intent and dignity of self and others, and have held on to their deeply held values. These are all critical attributes that are changing the way we perceive leaders today. The moral authority with which these leaders are operating far outweighs any formal authority, and their ability to unlock responsible business performance and to bring out the best in their people is unlimited.
Adam: What is the “Ethical Leader” and why is this important as we emerge from the pandemic? How does this tie into the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) agenda?
Tracey: For me, an ethical leader is a leader who is rooted in and guided by an ethical framework and set of principles that inform how they approach everything they do: how they interact with others, how they make decisions, how they manage and conduct themselves.
Ultimately, ethical leadership is about how leaders touch hearts, not just minds, and how they are able to enlist others in a shared and significant purpose. They create the conditions where everyone can contribute their fullest talent, honour each other’s dignity, and realise their deepest humanity. Ethical leaders are trustworthy, inspire colleagues, create meaning, and help people imagine a different and better future – they help people to do the ‘next right thing’, over and above just the ‘next thing right’.
My experience tells me it is not just about what you say and do as an ethical leader, it is also how you make others feel. This is what is truly meant by acting with integrity. And this is where the connection to the wider Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) agenda comes into play, where integrity acts as an integrated ‘red thread’ across all of ESG. As a leader, are you cultivating a workplace culture where inclusion and equality are strategic priorities, and employee well-being is an imperative? Are you questioning the impact of the business on the environment and challenging what more (or less) you could be doing to minimise harm to our natural world in the short, medium, and longer term? What more could you do to activate your corporate purpose to move beyond mere words to tangible actions, that engender both wider societal benefit and sustainable business engagement?
Adam: How will this weave into corporate culture and how do you feel leaders will ensure cultural cohesion moving forwards, for example more inclusive and dynamic workplaces?
Tracey: We are already seeing real change happen in the workplace with the move towards hybrid working and the renewed focus on inclusion and equality as we emerge from the pandemic. What is interesting is that it is not just what businesses are introducing and/or making more permanent, it is how they are doing it. I am observing far more active listening taking place in companies, where leaders are asking questions, listening to what is being reported back, and then exploring potential options before committing to action.
This indicates an intentional shift towards a more human-centric approach to leading business, recognising the benefits of empowerment, cultivating trust and treating others fairly and with dignity. When we can create a culture where everyone feels that they matter, individual voices are being heard and listened to, and where we are all equally held accountable for our actions and words, then we are able to co-create a collective energy and cultural cohesion that is resilient and has a huge potential for growth.
Adam: What do you see as the biggest challenge for leadership as we navigate our way out of the pandemic?
Tracey: Leaders are grappling with a level of change that is exceptional and enduring. Much has been written about how uncertainty and complexity is here to stay, and how we need to get used to an environment that is no longer predictable nor stable. However, with every challenge comes opportunity. I often refer to the Chinese word for Crisis, which is made up of two Chinese symbols, one representing Danger and the other representing Opportunity. With every crisis comes risk, but there also comes the opportunity to learn, adapt, innovate, and respond.
There are many challenges for leadership right now, but arguably one of the most pressing is a leader’s ability to unlearn some of what they have always done, be open to experimentation and to be more curious. Leaders need to learn new skills and abilities such as emotional agility (which takes emotional intelligence to a new level), to show humility and vulnerability, to earn the trust of others through competence and character, and to lead with dignity that honours our inherent value and worth. I would love to dive into each one of these skills with you and explore what they all entail, why they are so important and how to develop them, but that is probably the focus of another conversation!
Adam: Tracey, thank you so much for your time to explore this topical and interesting subject with me and for sharing your insights with us. I look forward to continuing our conversation in due course.
If you would like to learn more about leadership, consulting services or discuss this article in more detail, please contact Adam Gates.