“As we move into [COVID] recovery, leaders will have to deploy a whole new mindset and a whole new skill set,” says Hess, author of Hyper-Learning: How to Adapt to the Speed of Change. “Not all of this is COVID-driven,” he adds. “We’ve known for years, decades even, that the old-school leadership model would have to change. But for sure the pandemic has accelerated the need for a new kind of leader.” 

Hyper-Learning explores what it means to be this type of leader. On an individual level, hyper-learning means being able to continuously learn, unlearn, and relearn by adapting to the reality of the world as it evolves, rather than seeking to defend your beliefs and ego. On an organizational level, it means creating an environment that allows and encourages everyone else to be hyper-learners as well. 

As we move into recovery, Hess says leaders must be able to do the following:

  1. Manage their own emotions and behaviours. Hess says Inner Peace is a foundational building block for a hyper-learner for many reasons: It allows you to quite your ego, stay open to the best ideas, and connect with others in meaningful ways. And in times of great chaos (like right now), it helps you tune out the noise so you can do the kind of high-level critical thinking that allows you to make smart decisions. 
  2. And defuse the anxiety of employees. People are really suffering right now, and emotional well-being matters. Remember that employees take their cues from you, so a state of calm is more important than ever. Part of helping neutralize anxiety is communication; when you don’t do it well and often, people will fill in the void with their own worst-case scenarios. “Now, more than ever, people need to feel cared about as unique human beings.” 
  3. Create a sense of “We are all in this together, and together we will thrive.” “The workplace of the future is an idea meritocracy,” says Hess. “Leaders need to inspire hope, but not in the sense of ‘Don’t worry, we will rescue the rest of you.’ The message needs to be ‘Together we will thrive.’ “Of course, this message must be backed by a workplace environment that allows for true collaboration,” he adds. 
  4. Anticipate market shifts and be disruptive. For instance, leaders need to know how to manage digital transformation. This is where the hyper-learning mindset really comes into play. Leaders must stay open to the future and really listen to customers, rather than clinging to old, preconceived ideas and hearing what you want to hear. “Operational excellence will be table stakes in the recovery and beyond,” says Hess. “Every company will be in the innovation business.”
  5. Proactively manage change. Change is the new given. Impermanence is the new mindset needed. This will require embedding in your business a “story” than enables every employee to embrace change and that requires teaching employees how to go into the unknown and figure it out. People will need new tools to use, and small teams will be the structure needed to continuously adapt. Change is an iterative process—and change needs to be challenging but not overwhelming. Change is emotional. That means leaders need to understand the psychology of change: what kinds of emotions/behaviors to expect and how to guide people to positive emotions. “When people know they must constantly learn, unlearn, and relearn, then change isn’t some upsetting experience,” observes Hess. “It’s just life.” 
  6. Foster quick, effective, smart collaboration. No one person can ever have the answers. People have to be able to arrive at smart answers quickly, and that means creating the conditions for collective flow to happen and building what Hess calls “caring, trusting teams.” While many factors play into good collaboration, he says an “otherness” focus is at the center. “Otherness is both a mindset and a behavior,” he says. “Leaders first need to overcome their own tendency to seek confirmation for what they believe. This means acknowledging that they need others to help them see solutions. They also need to behave in ways that show they respect the human dignity of others, and make sure all team members do the same.”
  7. Seek feedback continuously. Embrace feedback graciously and gratefully. That takes humility. If you assume you know it all, you won’t be open to the ideas of others. Humility requires mastering the ego. While this may not be easy, it’s certainly possible to have a quiet ego once you get intentional about it. “Mindfulness meditation is one method,” notes Hess. Another good option is to practice gratitude by saying thank you more often, writing thank-you notes to employees, and acknowledging often that you did not reach your leadership position all on your own. You had lots of help along the way. 
  8. Create a place where people really want to be. As economic recovery takes hold and more opportunities begin to open up, we’ll see a mass exodus of people who were poorly treated during tough times. Hess suggests you be ready to capture them by taking steps to “humanize” your workplace culture:
    • Be an idea meritocracy. This means the best data-driven idea or judgment wins, irrespective of rank, compensation, or power. 
    • Cultivate workplace positivity. Positive emotions enable cognitive processing, innovative thinking, learning, and creativity. Negative emotions like fear and anxiety squelch them. 
    • Respect human dignity. Respect every employee as a unique human being worthy of the opportunity to grow and develop their skills and to be economically rewarded in a manner that validates their human dignity and gives them the opportunity to live a meaningful life. 
    • Operationalize “psychological safety” throughout your business. That requires you to build trust throughout your organization. That enables people to do the “hard stuff” like give constructive feedback, challenge the status quo, and find the courage to take risks. 
    • Meet people’s self-determination needs. In part this means people must have input on how they do their jobs and feel a sense of competence in their work.
  1. Adopt a new humanistic way of working. Leaders must focus on training and developing people so they can be their “best selves.” Without a whole company of people working at top capacity, it will be tough for any business to survive in a super-competitive marketplace, notes Hess.

“COVID has been a workplace disruptor,” adds Hess. “It has required human adaptation and embracing new ways of working. As we move over time into a post-COVID era, leaders must embrace the reality that the business world will not go back to operating as it did in early 2020 … don’t let a good recovery go to waste.”