March 12, 2020.

That date will be forever burned into my memory.

That morning, I was invited to give an address to a group of Charity and Non-Profit Executives.

It was an informal Mastermind group of CEOs who met periodically for a whole morning of learning and mutual support. A number of them were long-time acquaintances and business colleagues.

While honoured to be there, I was also a bit nervous and wanted to bring my “A” game.

The organizers allowed for a generous presentation time and ample time following the Q&A dialogue. My topic was “Developing a Change-Ready Organization.”

This was a topic of personal interest, plus I’d had success in implementing what I was talking about.

Not long after I began, I noticed various members furtively glancing at their cell phone screens. A few others were ducking out and having animated cell phone conversations in the hallways and the parking lot outside.

The World Health Organization declared a Global Pandemic late the previous day. Some attendees were running healthcare organizations and seniors’ residential care facilities.

Unspoken panic was in the air.

The great shutdown had begun.

Quite unintentionally, my presentation became prophetic in nature.

Everyone was scrambling to deal with massive workplace changes that were unfolding in real time before our eyes.

Since then, we’ve all had front-row seats watching how the pandemic has brought about significant changes in all sectors. Leaders have been compelled to adapt to a rapidly evolving environment.

The changes that have emerged proved to be more than just temporary adjustments.

They have become a new way of living, working, and, of course, leading.

As we navigate the post-pandemic world, the leadership practices that emerged during this period are proving to be more than temporary adjustments.

Here are three of the most impactful changes I’ve observed that have shaped, and continue to shape, effective leadership:

New Emphasis On Organizational Culture: Empathy and Emotional Intelligence

Kindness and empathy always stay in style in my books.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought this into sharp focus in new ways. As our world faced unprecedented challenges, leaders were compelled to acknowledge the widespread stress, uncertainty, and personal difficulties experienced by those around them.

This shift demanded a “culture of care” for work colleagues’ mental health and well-being.

Leaders who were capable of genuine empathy and support were able to foster stronger connections within their teams. This helped boost morale and contributed to a more resilient workforce. By recognizing and addressing the mental health needs of those in their care, these leaders cultivated an environment of trust and mutual respect.

Empathy and emotional intelligence also helped enhance communication and collaboration within organizations. Leaders who actively listened to colleagues and co-workers were equipped to provide the necessary support and resources.

This responsiveness helped to alleviate anxiety and uncertainty in the face of turbulent circumstances.

Furthermore, emphasizing empathy and emotional intelligence led to more inclusive and supportive workplace cultures.

Leaders who “baked in” these values were more likely to implement policies and practices that promoted work-life balance, mental health resources, and flexible working arrangements.

Leaders had to acknowledge the stress, uncertainty, and personal challenges faced by their teams. This shift required a deeper understanding and attentiveness to employees’ mental health and well-being. Leaders who demonstrated genuine empathy and support fostered stronger connections and a more resilient workforce.

Flexibility, Availability and Adaptability:

The pandemic-driven transformations in the workplace put flexibility, availability, and adaptability at the forefront of effective leadership.The sudden shift to remote work and constantly evolving health guidelines demanded unparalleled agility from leaders across all sectors.

Organizations had to transition to remote work almost overnight.

I worked with leaders who had to devise and implement new strategies quickly to maintain productivity and engagement.

Traditional decision-making and problem-solving approaches, which relied on routines and in-person interactions, had to become more dynamic.

Leaders were required to think on their feet and make rapid adjustments to accommodate the crisis’s fluid nature. This involved reevaluating priorities, reallocating resources, and redesigning workflows for the new remote work environment.

Flexibility became a critical attribute for leaders navigating this landscape. They had to be open to new ways of working and willing to experiment with different approaches to find what worked best for their teams.

Leaders who demonstrated flexibility by allowing flexible working hours, offering remote work options, and providing additional support resources helped their teams adapt more smoothly to the new normal.

Availability also emerged as a critical factor in effective leadership during this period. With teams dispersed across different locations and time zones, leaders needed to be more accessible than ever before. Regular check-ins, virtual office hours, and open lines of communication became essential in ensuring that employees felt supported and connected.
Leaders who made themselves available for their teams, offering guidance and addressing concerns in real-time, fostered a sense of continuity and stability amidst the uncertainty.

Adaptability is the most crucial attribute that enabled leaders to steer their organizations through the turbulent times brought about by the pandemic.

Those who could pivot quickly and effectively manage change were better positioned to navigate the challenges and seize new opportunities.

This adaptability was evident in the swift adoption of digital tools and platforms that facilitated remote work, virtual collaboration, and online customer engagement. Leaders who embraced these strategies maintained business continuity and drove digital transformation initiatives that positioned their organizations for future success.

Moreover, the emphasis on adaptability extended to strategic planning and execution. Leadership teams had to continually reassess their strategies, often shifting focus to address emerging trends and changing market dynamics.

Purpose and Values-Driven Leadership: A New Imperative in the Post-Pandemic World

This may be one of those “Well, Duh!” observations, but that does not make it less true.

Organizations with strong, values-driven leadership fared much better throughout the pandemic than those with fuzzy purpose and values.

I tend to think this was true both before and after the crisis.

As circumstances unfolded, there was much angst and turmoil driven by the heightened expectations of stakeholders and funders.

Employees, customers, investors, and the broader community began to demand that organizations not only navigate the challenges of the pandemic but also contribute positively to societal issues.

This shift placed a premium on leaders who clearly articulate and embody their organization’s purpose and values. Such leaders were able to inspire and engage their teams more effectively by providing a sense of direction and meaning amidst the chaos.

New hires were no longer content with simply working for a pay check; they want to be part of organizations that stand for something larger than themselves.

My Gen-Z work colleagues want to have a clear and positive impact on society!

The new expectation became that leaders consistently convey how their organizations were contributing to the greater good.

Sometimes, this is through charitable initiatives, sustainable business practices, or efforts to support public health and safety.

This communication has to be authentic and transparent, as stakeholders are quick to discern any discrepancies between a company’s stated values and its actions.

DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) and ESG (environmental, social, and governance) criteria needed to be championed and integrated into policies and planning.

Numerous emerging studies now show how emphasizing purpose and values-driven leadership has led to a more inclusive and socially responsible way of doing business.

This holistic approach to business, which balanced profit with purpose, has become a key differentiator in the competitive landscape.

As we all transition into the post-pandemic world, the importance of purpose and values-driven leadership remains paramount.

To wrap this up:

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about profound leadership shifts. Empathy, flexibility, adaptability, and purpose-driven values are not just temporary adjustments but foundational elements for future success.

To succeed, you and I must continue prioritizing these qualities to inspire teams, drive innovation, and build resilient organizations. Embrace these lessons learned and commit to fostering a culture of care, agility, and purpose.

Let’s help shape the future of leadership together!

Until next time!