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New Leadership: No more "That's the way we've always done it"

The Corona crisis continues to have an impact. The world of work is also changing - and with it the bosses. Or rather: they should.
In an interview with Nina Anika Klotz, expert Jessica Breitkopf gives tips on how managers should deal with the new situation. Breitkopf is Head of Product Management Team Business Management and Leadership at the Haufe Akademie in Freiburg.

A jogger on a winding road with crash barriers New Leadership is about allowing employees their freedom and promoting self-organisation - within guard rails that set the direction (Picture: Joshua Sortino, Unsplash)

New Normal for Leaders

There will be a New Normal. Even if we are all hopefully vaccinated by the end of the year and "all this" is over: not everything will simply go back to the way it was. Not even in the world of work. Sound ominous? It shouldn't. After all, a lot of old habits had to go anyway. And why not just carry on differently and better? 

The new normal of the world of work demands a serious rethink of leadership. The old basic rule of "we do it this way because we have always done it this way" had - some may be aware of this, but some may not - had had its day long before the pandemic began. So now it was officially suspended for a whole year. Virtually no one could carry on in 2020/21 as they always had.

Most of them were forced to change. Home office, new distribution channels, digitalisation of communication and production processes - change has been happening for a long time. And it is not going away. Now the bosses just have to get to grips with it - or better: continue the change that has already begun.

So: What makes a good leader in these new times? What are real leadership qualities in a working world that we all don't really know yet? 

Jessica BreitkopfJessica Breitkopf is an expert in Team Business Management and Leadership (Picture: Haufe Akademie)
We talked about this with Jessica Breitkopf from the Haufe Akademie, a leading company for the qualification and development of people in companies. Among other things, the Haufe Akademie offers numerous seminars and online training courses on the topic of new leadership, which deal with the topic of leading in the modern working world.


Ms Breitkopf, what do you think are changes in the world of work that the pandemic has unleashed or accelerated that will not go away - for better or for worse?


Jessica Breitkopf: During the pandemic, we had to learn to cope with a high degree of fast-moving, unpredictable and constantly changing facts. There is a high level of uncertainty in general, the basis for decision-making has become fuzzy.

The keyword is VUCA (acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, editor's note): Of course, there were already clear traits of this in our working world before 2020, but the pandemic has made it even clearer. This will certainly continue in a New Normal, however it is shaped - even if not as drastically.

Employees in a meeting room, a woman stands in front of a Kanban board with coloured post-itsWith a Kanban board, you can structure projects - this doesn't only work in start-ups (Picture: You X Ventures, Unsplash)

But that actually sounds rather frightening.


Breitkopf: It doesn't have to. It depends on how you deal with uncertainty, complexity, volatility and thus reduced predictability. We are used to acting in a fairly straightforward manner in the working world: We set a goal, develop a strategy and then run. In my opinion, that will no longer work in the long run.

But just as we practised during the pandemic to come to terms with constantly changing facts and framework conditions, we can also work iteratively in the future according to "moving targets": We have a goal, but it is no longer as clearly defined as before and can always be readjusted. So we have to constantly clarify and review our way there. Is this how we get there?

And we have to be ready to say: The decision was wrong, now we are somewhere else and have to decide again.


Modern work philosophies such as agile working resonate here. New Work, Scrum and so on - would you say that every entrepreneur can find tips for leadership in a new era? So not only the 28-year-old start-up founder from Berlin, but also the 52-year-old managing director of a medium-sized family business...


Breitkopf: Of course, Agile and Scrum come a lot from software development, not everything fits into all areas of work, so as a manager I first have to check what makes sense and what does not.

But maybe a Kanban board makes sense in a medium-sized family business to structure all team projects? 

Or the routine of dailies (short, maximum 15-minute, standing meetings of an entire team to exchange information about current work, editor's note) can, under certain circumstances, also be enriching in non-start-up and non-IT areas.


What demands do these new times now place on bosses? What should a good leadership style look like in the New Normal?


Breitkopf: One point is certainly: promote self-organisation in the team! Strict hierarchies and leadership with strong control have a very hard time today. The manager should promote the self-organisation of the employees and thus give them more freedom in how they want to realise their work and projects.

He or she should be available to them as a professional coach, as a supporter. Nevertheless, clear guidelines and framework conditions are of course extremely important. In my team, I always call it guard rails in which the product managers and specialists operate. 

It is also necessary for the manager to strengthen and further promote digital competence and process knowledge.

So what are the characteristics of a good boss in the future?


Breitkopf: It is important to lead the way. I have to exemplify change myself, I cannot demand that my people change.

This requires a willingness to put oneself to the test, to question oneself and to reflect. You have to be open to feedback. Not everyone likes that.


And how do you take your employees with you into the New Normal? As a rule, people find change annoying and exhausting at first...


Breitkopf: What always helps and is a good start for change is being close to the grassroots. You have to do a lot of convincing with the staff, and the central key is certainly transparent and regular communication. That's how you get many of them on board.

And: You should also bear in mind that change is something continuous; at Haufe Akademie it is part of the corporate culture. There is always development - only sometimes it happens in more drastic steps, like now with the pandemic.