Here’s How to Lead in 2022: Be An Avocado Leader

As we’re coming to the end of 2021, you might be putting plans in place for 2022. Of course we’re not through this pandemic yet, so 2022 still holds some uncertainty and doubt. If you’re a leader, manager, or business owner (or all three!), this gives you a double challenge: creating a plan to achieve your organisation’s goals and also leading your people through an uncertain future.

It’s important that you can tackle both of those challenges. There’s no point creating a beautiful plan if your team won’t follow it because they are still stressed and anxious. At the same time, you can’t spend all your time trying to look after their mental health at the expense of achieving your organisational goals.

The best leaders find the right balance.

As a leader, your official title might be a project manager, director, financial controller, General Manager, or whatever – but COVID-19 might have suddenly thrust you into the role of a counsellor. Of course, you’re probably not a trained counsellor, and there are HR and EAP resources to provide that service. But you can’t just handball everything to them.

Maybe you need to be an ‘avocado leader’.

In June last year, Macquarie Business School and We Are Unity surveyed senior leaders in Australia about the way they were handling the pandemic, and identified three things the most successful leaders prioritised: employee mental health, faster and more cost-effective ways of working, and fast-tracking digital disruption. They also found three key leadership behaviours driving results: decisiveness, empathy, and connectedness.

In their report ‘COVID-19: Crisis or Catalyst?’, the researchers coined the phrase ‘avocado leader’ to describe a new leadership style for successfully navigating through crisis.

I love this metaphor (I wish I had thought of it myself!).

Like an avocado, this kind of leader has both a hard inner core (the commercial focus on business outcomes) and a soft outer layer (the empathetic people skills).

How can YOU be more of an avocado leader?

The best leaders have always acted this way. They treat their people as people first, but know their performance still matters. They plan from the head – to achieve the team and organisational objectives – but lead from the heart – to bring people along on the journey.

For many leaders who have never had to work this way, leading in uncertainty has been a struggle. But you’d better become better at this (and fast!) because our world is not getting any slower or surer. Even when COVID-19 is behind us, we’ll have plenty of other things to disrupt our best-laid plans.

There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for finding the right balance, but you can take the first steps by asking these questions:

  1. Have I been driving my people too hard to achieve the business goals? How can I be more empathetic to their personal situation?
  2. Have I been too soft with them because of external pressures? How can we re-focus on their business goals?

It might only take a few tweaks, or it might take some major changes. Either way, it’s worth the effort, because we need more avocado leaders now – and in the future.


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