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The key to empowered leadership

Inclusive leadership is ensuring workers can bring their full selves to their work – empowerment entails giving individuals and teams greater autonomy to take decisions and find innovative solutions.  

HR and people managers alike must understand the difference and how to adjust in order to remain effective, valued leaders.

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In our latest report, Leading Through Turbulent Times: Trust, Connection, and Empowerment, The Conference Board explored with over 30 European-based senior executives some of the ways leaders need to lead differently.

The following are the resulting recommended practices for shifting from inclusive to empowered leadership:

Make trust the currency for effective working instead of time or presence

This entails shifting attention away from hours worked and towards results and impact. Effective leaders expect and enable virtual and remote staff to manage their work responsibility. Leadership switches to supporting workers to meet their goals and deliver results, a vital change in a virtual environment when the pace of work speeds up.

Find new ways to nurture connection and belonging 

Savvy leaders emphasise the importance of strong relations and a strong network across the virtual organisation. They aim to communicate processes to create personal connections and find intentional ways to replace informal communications or socialising that took place in the physical workplace.


Listening is about paying attention not only to individuals but also to the cadence of the organisation. Executives prioritise building virtual networks and creating space to connect informally with key colleagues who can help them assess the sentiment of the organisation or spot issues.

Make speedy and clear decisions 

Executives acknowledge that multiple virtual meetings often delay or muddy decision making. But even when decision making is more distributed, leaders are still accountable for ensuring everyone is clear about the decision and their role execution.

Enable collaboration and creativity to nurture innovative cultures

Executives see creativity as one of the most critical enablers of innovation and business growth. Savvy leaders highlight the need to provide psychological safety, where every voice is respected and listened to, as an effective way to recreate in virtual teams the creative energy generated by in-person events.

Conduct more frequent performance conversations

In a virtual environment, it becomes more important for leaders to conduct frequent dialogue with direct reports, check on their wellbeing, and ensure they are meeting their work goals.

The Conference Board’s focus group discussions with senior executives revealed that addressing this issue will be a major challenge, as some leaders will struggle to become more empowering and empathetic leaders.

To accelerate the shift to empowered leadership, CEOs will have the primary responsibility to model the approach to their director reports, but the people function also plays a vital role that will require urgent revision of leadership models and curriculum.


Marion Devine is senior researcher in human capital for Europe at The Conference Board.