Leadership, along with effective management, is essential for businesses to function successfully, especially as working practices adapt and evolve.

There has been a rise in people working remotely since lockdown measures were introduced at the start of the pandemic, and businesses are continuing to offer employees flexibility with hybrid working models. The Welsh Government has also set out a long-term ambition to see around 30% of Welsh workers working from or near home.

Leadership is a culturally shared phenomena yet also an individual experience and Chambers Wales South East, South West and Mid invited academic and industry experts to share with businesses their insights about leadership skills and the power of networks in the changing face of the workplace.

Joining host Dr James Whitehead from Cardiff Metropolitan University were Lerisha Bhardwaj, Chartered Accountant and Executive MBA student; Liz Maher, Director of Centurion VAT Specialists; and Bruce Dickenson of Caerdav, formerly of the band Iron Maiden.

Exploring the notion of a business as a network, Dr Whitehead discussed the four practices that will develop better leadership skills: understanding the social system, convening power, leading beyond authority and restless persuasion.

Dr Whitehead said: “Hierarchy is a convenient fiction, but it still influences our views and approach to leadership and management. In reality, an organisation’s structure is more of a social network of lateral and diagonal connections that bisect the up-down connections of the hierarchy. Leaders who understand how their organisation connects as a network can make things happen by drawing upon their personal rather than formal authority.”

Building upon the theories and concepts introduced by Dr Whitehead, the panellists shared their experiences and advice for current and future leaders in an innovative and fast-moving business environment.

Lerisha Bhardwaj said in response to an audience question: “Formal hierarchy may not always exist in the voluntary sector with leaders existing at all stages of businesses. Network leadership revolves around the company’s overall vision, mission and values of the organisation; a true understanding of the team’s  and individuals’ underlying personal values and motivations and aligning these with the company’s vision, mission and values. This will help leaders use their personal as opposed to positional power to ensure that everyone is intrinsically motivated and working towards a common shared purpose.”

Liz Maher said: “While there have been forms of hierarchical structures at companies I have worked for, I have also noted the importance of personalities and social power within these. It can be more difficult for women, who may be dealing with imposter syndrome in some cases, and there is still a divide between encouragement and implementation of introducing women into these networks.”

Bruce Dickenson added: “Understanding the power of networks is key for leaders to shape business culture and team dynamics. Successful leaders can inspire teams to solve problems and raise the confidence of their teams in approaching them. However, it is a balancing act and leaders should not be afraid to scrutinise toxic members in a fair way to create the team that the business needs to move forward.”