Has the pandemic changed the landscape of leadership?

Absolutely yes! I have been fortunate enough over the past 8–10 months to speak with numerous global CEOs, HR Directors and thought leaders. I have attended many leadership and HR conferences and webinars and read numerous articles and the undisputed outcome is leadership has gone through a seismic shift over this year and the landscape of leadership has changed extensively.

During a year when we all found ourselves in completely unexpected, unconventional, “unglued” and unbelievable times, we all looked to our leaders within our families, within our organisations, within our schools and within our governments to help us to make some sense of what was unravelling in front of us, but we also looked for them to give us some certainty in the midst of uncertainty; and some hope, optimism and assurance for the future.

The global pandemic has presented extraordinary challenges for today’s leaders. From their perspective, our leaders were thrown into the unknown and had the spotlights shone on them. They were expected to be agile and vulnerable but at the same time to be empowering and present. Companies were forced into a situation to provide the resources and allow their people to efficiently and effectively work from home within a matter of days (a project that most organisations believed would take at least 6 months to achieve).

Leaders were forced to make lots of decisions quickly in order to help to mitigate the disruption caused by the crisis with no real previous experience or knowledge of leading in a global pandemic to call on. They were forced to balance the short term viability and profitability of their organisations with the needs and support of their people in terms of their personal health and economic wellbeing and that of their families and the uncertainty, stress and anxiety that brought.

How do you think the focus of leadership has developed over the year?

At the beginning there was a significant element of shock and disbelief amongst everyone. Everything was changing on an almost daily basis, we were all operating on adrenalin and panic and fear. The uncertainty that we were experiencing caused us to make assumptions.

Everyone was adapting to a new reality and way of doing things. We were trying to work using different and new platforms and technologies, juggle home-schooling and employment whilst dealing with enormous levels of anxiety, stress and pressure. We were being forced to be more technologically advanced and to communicate in different ways, at different times with different people. We were more vulnerable, as leaders and as employees, people on our Zoom calls were able to see into our kitchens, our dining rooms and our studies.

This pandemic has created so many significant worries, any one of which, under normal circumstances would, be substantial. However, this situation has forced us into an unusual situation that all of these worries are impacting us simultaneously. 

We are worried about our health and the health of our parents, our grandparents, our friends, our neighbours. We are worried about our livelihoods and our children’s futures. We are worried about the impact that this is going to have on our communities and our planet, now and in the future. We are being forced to make decisions and choices that we have largely been unprepared to make.

Overnight we changed our approach to life, to our people, to our communities and to the universe.

As the year has gone on and the crisis continued and deepened, and our people continued to work from home and we continued to have restrictions on our movement and how we go about our everyday lives, leaders have had to shift their focus again to continue to develop and maintain that connection, engagement and motivation with teams remotely.

Resilience is also fundamental to a successful people agenda and has been a significant leadership focus this year. When we consider resilience as a leader, we need to have the energy and drive to think proactively, to be solution focused, positive and encouraging and to lead. This means that as leaders, we have to be well equipped both emotionally and physically to lead and to help to build resilience in those around us.