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Propelling The Rise Of The Natural Leader

By Dmitri Kharitidi and Sabrina El-Chibini, and Karan Jindal, The Collaboration Vector Inc. 

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The pandemic taught us many lessons about leadership that will serve us well.  As management models based on autonomy and trust evolved, natural and often unexpected leaders came to the forefront.  They self-empowered as hierarchical communication and decision-making channels were disrupted.     

At a time when uncertainty is the new norm, companies can identify and enable these natural leaders to rise and thrive.  In this new era no longer defined by supervision and oversight, which employees will lead the way?  What effective leadership characteristics might they possess?  How will companies create conditions needed to develop and retain them?

What did we learn about leadership during the pandemic?

There was unprecedented longing among employees and citizens to be led. Employees looked to their management for consistency, comfort, and security. Citizens frequently tuned in to updates from government, decision-makers, and scientists. Formal leaders who were present, consistent, and engaged were met with applause, while those absent with criticism.

Frontline leaders emerged everywhere. These were people going the extra mile. Healthcare heroes, grocery store employees, and customer service representatives who voluntarily carried a heavier load. They inspired others, gained trust, and elicited smiles despite confining masks.

Natural leaders emerged in business. These were corporate employees who informally took leadership. Instead of struggling to withstand the crisis in rigid conformity, these leaders were agile, rapidly adapting, and inventive. They may have been previously little known, and perhaps overlooked in succession planning exercises. These naturalleaders went on to make significant contributions to their peers, companies, and communities.

What effective leadership characteristics were observed?

Effective leaders were able to maintain focus on what was most important for stakeholders (co-workers, community organizations, decision-makers, etc.). They filtered through the noise, kept things moving forward, and led others in doing the same. They fostered collaboration, solved problems, and delivered innovative results.  

Effective leader characteristics

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These natural leaders are driven by purpose, especially during times of crisis. They self-empower by understanding the criticality of being a pillar for others.

New approaches to leadership development

New purpose-driven frameworks must provide opportunities for natural leaders to emerge, showcase their abilities, and gain visibility and influence. Recognition, rewards, incentives, and promotions should be closely tied to leadership initiatives.

In our experience, one purpose-filled approach to identifying natural leaders is to offer leadership roles within an integrated corporate community program. Seventy natural leaders have emerged and developed to date within The Collaboration Vector Inc.’s Transformative Community Involvement Framework that moves corporate community investment from transactional to transformational. Here natural leaders, their teams, and non-profit partners take action to help social problems. Leader retention, engagement, and satisfaction rates are consistently high.


Following are characteristics of the framework that have been critical to its success:

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The identification and development of natural leaders through non-traditional programs holds tremendous potential for companies. Natural leaders are ideally suited to support companies in performing over the long-term in this new era, in delivering on the corporate social contract, and in meeting and exceeding stakeholder expectations.

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