The Future of Leadership Development – Interview with Marcela Niemeyer

In a time of immense transformation, it’s essential to lead efficiently, positively and strategically. The future of leadership development depends on the development of vital competencies, which must be explored and invested in by managers. In this interview, Factorial spoke with Marcela Niemeyer, an experienced Human Resources executive, experienced in leadership development, and who has managed multicultural teams in large organizations.

Her experience involves developing and implementing global talent management strategies across multiple locations and preparing leaders with executive-level capabilities.

In this interview, Marcela comments on the transformations brought about by the pandemic and shares with us the essential aspects necessary for the future of leadership development. She also shares some inspirational insights on the power we have to turn challenges into solutions and gives some practical tips for getting there.

Passionate about supporting leaders and teams in their own growth and development, Marcela has helped us understand how to help them so they can be the best version of themselves and perform as well as possible.

Check out the full interview below! 👇


Can you tell us a bit about your professional career? How did your relationship with human resources begin? How does your psychology background help you in your role?

I was thinking about doing clinical psychology when I started college. After a while, we started doing some internships, working in clinics, schools and hospitals and that’s when I began to realize that what I really liked was teamwork.

The clinic is a very beautiful job, but I liked it when we could do something for more people. At the time, as the college was semi-integral, I went to work in marketing. Soon after I went to work for Itaú bank in the human resources department, which is what I wanted. Here is where I started to see what this teamwork was like; we did climate research and worked together with other people. It was a great school.

I was always very curious, so I also tried to understand what the other areas did. I remember to this day that at Ford we went to work for a while in manufacturing. At that moment, we had to place ourselves in the role of professionals from another area;  putting ourselves in another professional’s role and perspective was very important to our growth. Sometimes we don’t have all the technical skills, but by understanding the business and knowing how to relate to people, you can grow more easily. In this way, you help others while they also have the opportunity to interact with you.

One theme that has been much addressed in recent months is the importance of a positive leadership development plan for employees. How can a leader seek to have positive leadership? How can this be done in practice, on a day-to-day basis?

I live positive leadership every day and it’s something I really believe in. In the company I work with, we implemented a positive leadership development program, more so a way of thinking than a program, but it was something I already had in me.

There are some concepts that I bring forward and ones that I believe stem a lot from positive leadership. The first is employee recognition. How do we recognize our employees and colleagues? It doesn’t have to be just in a big project, but also in everyday life; recognizing people’s daily attitudes is very important.

I for example led a project where I had about 20 people on my team, from all over the world. At the end of the project, I wanted to seek a form of recognition for these people. So I had the idea of making a trophy, giving them a certificate, and holding a small celebration with each of them. It was a way of recognizing these teams for their work.

“I like it a lot when I see people shining, teams showing off.”

The other point is related to gratitude. I mean, how many good things have been going on in our lives? Despite the pandemic, many of us still have work and can work from home. This is something to express gratitude for, especially during this time.

There is also another concept, which is Pay it foward, in which one, often small and/or anonymous action is done to help those around you.

“Often when we do good without expecting anything in return, other people do it for us as well. Whether it’s in the workplace or another environment, if you have that spirit of wanting to help and do good for others, it comes back to you some time.”

So it’s these three concepts of positive leadership that are very important. And I think this also applies to managers, not just for HR professionals.

In your career, you’ve had to deal with people from all walks of life (diverse cultures, nationalities and backgrounds). How have you led multicultural teams in the past? 

That’s something I like a lot because, with multicultural teams, we’re always learning. Today I have a global position, which was a dream I had. And why do I like it so much?

Because each person brings a different experience, related to where he/she lives, the culture, the experiences that he/she has lived, and through connecting with these people, we have the opportunity to keep learning.

It is very important to have humility, to learn from each and every person. I bring my experience so that others can learn from them but I have the humility to always listen and involve people in the projects I am working on.

“Understanding the views and promoting interaction between people makes one learn from the other.”

Talking about the formation of leaders, today more than ever is a time that requires more empathy and flexibility. How can people find balance and engage managers for more humane leadership?

This point is very important. I’ve heard in the past that a lot lies in HR. And it’s not really in HR, it’s in the lead. How are you as a leader going to be the leader your team wants to see?

I interact a lot with vice president and c-level professionals, supporting them as a business partner, and try to show how to make this business grow. And that’s all done through people.

“If people aren’t happy and engaged, they won’t cooperate. The pandemic has helped us a lot to understand that. Everyone needed to be more human.”

How do we give people flexibility while understanding each situation? I have realized that many managers who have been focused more on the human side of human resources are able to see their teams in a different light and recognize them each for their achievements and the way they interact and engage with the team.

The job I do is to help managers engage teams so that it comes more from them and not just HR.

In your opinion, what were the main transformations for HR management during the pandemic? What Human Resources processes do you believe will undergo the biggest changes from now on?

I think there have been some changes that had to happen in two or three years. There were a lot of people who weren’t in favor of working from home, even I didn’t think it worked. For many people, this adaptation was and still is, difficult.

“In this context, you as HR can communicate more with the employee, be closer and propose activities that engage that employee.”

Many actions cannot be solely done just by HR but need to come from the actions of managers. And, how does HR help a manager connect better with their team in order to do this? It all starts with the process of humanization.

In addition, having flexibility and resilience is important. People have to be resilient to work within the parameters of this new scenario. Innovation and creativity also appear, because if you don’t have other kinds of ideas, how are you going to connect with people now? How will you maintain these connections?

“The trend is increasingly that we can work remotely and create new forms of communication. People start taking more risks, innovating and doing things differently.”

👉 Looking for ways to better manage your employees while they work from home?

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How can a crisis like COVID-19 serve as an opportunity for leaders? In general, do you think it is possible to enjoy this moment in a positive way?

I always see the glass half full, and things in a positive way. I think people have been given a lot to reflect on; do training, invest in self-development, all of this helps. Out of it all, there will be a productivity gain.

In some cases, there may be a loss of productivity because we are with the family, and it can be difficult to deal with. But there’s also the idea of overcoming it. People are managing to work even with children at home and among distractions. And that’s where you prove once again that we can effectively manage; employees just need the chance to learn how. Good leaders are an integral part of helping employees get to that stage.

With this comes this competence to be resilient and to be always changing and adapting. No one has experience in this new world. We created this strength of not being prepared, but facing the challenge anyway, and all through coming together as a team and learning from our mistakes.

What is the future of leadership for you? What behaviors and attitudes characterize the leader of the future?

“For me, the leader of the future is focused on people. He has to be a resilient leader and have quick learning.”

It is the idea of Learning agility, which speaks to a lot of people who live in a complex and ambiguous world and need to adapt quickly.

In addition, positive leadership and maximizing on the future of leadership development is what will make all the difference. Above all, the most humanized part of the manager, and their understanding of the fact that a certain level of flexibility and resilience is needed as we move forward is key to the future of positive leadership development. What am I going to do? How am I going to act? And, how will the employees engage with one another? It is important to motivate people in the direction of what needs to be done, this is where the future of leadership is heading.

This post is also available in: Português BR

1 thought on “The Future of Leadership Development – Interview with Marcela Niemeyer”

  1. Thks for sharing your vision, Marcela. I agree that the leader of the future has to focus on people… Leader who serves the team not those who expect to be served.

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