Five Key Leadership Skills You Need To Survive In a Post-Pandemic World
We’re all more than aware of how Covid-19 has turned the world on its head. Every single one of us has experienced an impact on our professional and personal lives in one way or another. Change is inevitable and a leader must adapt to transformation quickly. Here are the five key leadership skills that successful leaders must exhibit post-pandemic.
The post-pandemic workplace will not look the same in every country or industry, but for many leaders, the pandemic presents both challenges and opportunities.
The post-pandemic era will be very demanding on leaders. As we sail through these unchartered waters, this era will require new kinds of leadership styles and approaches. Leaders will have to adjust their skillsets accordingly. As leaders begin to stage the return to work, they have an opportunity to leverage new insights and advancements developed during the past several months to reimagine the workplace, rather than attempting a return to business as usual.
The most effective leaders employ a mix of leadership skills, technical skills, and business knowledge.
The exact mix of these skill sets is dependent on the leader’s role, level in the organization, and in some cases the industry in which they work. The combination of these skills has changed due to the pandemic and shifts in work-life. Today, leadership skills are even more vital and often set great leaders apart from their peers. The need for technical skills and business knowledge have remained steady and are also central pieces to the leadership puzzle.
The COVID-19 pandemic has blurred the division between our work and family lives, and shifted what we value.
It has also fundamentally reshaped our relationship with institutions including healthcare, the government and employers. This new reality requires a new approach from leaders. Increasingly, employees are challenging systems that have traditionally governed the workplace, such as hierarchical management and performance assessment.
Here are five ways leaders can reframe their approach to survive in a post-pandemic world, by honing their leadership skills.
Organizations are finding themselves seeing the light at the end of the pandemic, and now it’s decision-time. Leaders are asking themselves and each other: how should my post-pandemic workplace look? How should my leadership evolve after such a tumultuous period? How will I need to lead in our future workplace? Let’s find out!
Post-pandemic skills #1: Flexibility First
If the pandemic has forced one thing, it’s a need for quick thinking and on-the-fly adjustments. Business models of the past have been flung out the window in favor of something much more malleable. Where before we ran our work lives by a rigid structure, now external forces must be considered more than ever. Unfortunately, this caused many businesses to quickly crumble under the weight of the pandemic.
Leaders are more exposed now than they ever have been before.
Gone are the days where leaders could make decisions from muscle memory and past experience. In this Black Swan world, leaders will need to take the time to listen to the mood music in their organization, scan the horizon, and stay attuned to any murmurs of discontent. These leaders also accept that they don’t have all the answers and instead use the power of their teams, encouraging experimentation to co-create the right solutions.
Some leaders may mandate that their teams adopt hybrid, remote, or purely office work based upon the leader’s own anecdotal experiences and personal preferences.
For example, we all know leaders who have loved the remote work experience resulting from the pandemic, whereas others have loathed it. These differences are based on their unique preferences and personality, and are not necessarily the best work mode for their team members. According to research, 39% of Canadian employees would roll with it and return to the office if their employer demanded a return. While 44% would either quit and start looking for a new job immediately, or go back to the office while possibly looking for a new job. These numbers show how varied individual preferences are, but that flexibility is a key value for many. Leaders must keep this wide range of preferences in mind when curating their workplace arrangement.
Agility in the post-pandemic world pertains to your willingness to change and the quickness you demonstrate as you adapt to these changes.
It means learning how to leverage technologies, practice responsible oversight, be more adept in problem-solving, and come up with creative solutions. On the other hand, flexibility in the post-pandemic workplace means having an open mindset, learning to adjust to new and unexpected responsibilities and deadlines, and being capable of working well under pressure. If you are implementing a hybrid working arrangement, which is a combination of an office-based physical and remote team, expect significant, unexpected changes to happen. Being agile and flexible will help you deal with and manage these changes effectively.
The pandemic forced many leaders to quickly adjust their strategy and business model and consider more external factors than ever before.
It tested resiliency, and we saw some companies buckle under the weight of the crisis while others seemed to advance their positions. All organizations had to think fast and act quickly to keep up with the pandemic and its increasing impact on business. While the worst of the crisis is hopefully behind us, disruption and change will likely never subside. Leaders must continue to embrace and nurture their organization’s ability to adapt and execute at the highest level even when there isn’t an existing playbook to follow. It’s therefore integral that leaders can accept what’s what and work hard to adapt, change, and grow at all levels if they’re going to continue to stay in business, even if there’s no concrete plan to follow.
Post-pandemic skills #2: Health is the New Wealth
Well-being of employees has always been the prerogative of a leader but today, it is ensuring the safety, security and good health for extended families also. In prolonged periods of trouble, like the pandemic times, physical and mental health are both highly compromised. Leaders are expected to give space and time to their teams to deal with personal challenges. After all, allowing anxiety to grow has a strong negative manifestation through low morale, reduced productivity, absenteeism, and even increased mistakes and accidents. By being a pillar of strength for employees drives a sense of loyalty for leaders ultimately building stronger companies and communities for times to come.
Concern for wellbeing in the workplace was a rising trend even before the pandemic, and it is arguably even more crucial as people around the world grapple with widespread grief, anxiety, and burnout.
While Human Resources is largely responsible for driving organisational support for wellbeing, there are many ways managers can support wellbeing within their teams on a day-to-day basis. For example, managers can regularly check in with team members to see how they’re doing; they can model self-care by sharing how they’re taking care of themselves; they can offer venues for connection and mentoring within the team; and they can encourage employees to take sufficient time away to prevent burnout. The Deloitte 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report found wellbeing was the top-rated trend for importance, with 80% of respondents saying that wellbeing — measures that help people feel their best so they can work effectively, according to Deloitte — is important for their organization’s success.
The pandemic also posed a mental health challenge for individuals due to a number of factors, including increased isolation and fear.
Organizations need to consider their employee experience no matter where an employee is working from. Improving communication, feedback loops, and accountability can help your organization give staff the support they need for improved wellbeing. That said, changing organizational culture and improving wellbeing requires more than good intentions; real change requires accountability throughout the organization. Rewards often foster accountability, and one compelling reward is money. In addition to private and public recognition, try building wellbeing bonuses and raises into your compensation and rewards systems.
Companies that support employee wellbeing and professional relationships will achieve greater performance and organizational resilience.
Providing easier access to health amenities, however, won’t make an impact on employees’ holistic wellbeing if they don’t have the time to use them. With one-third of employees today feeling held back by a lack of energy and time to adopt healthy routines, companies have the opportunity to better support their workers by helping them carve out time during the workday to focus on self-care. People managers, in particular, will have a critical role to play in setting the tone and encouraging their teams to identify the moments and places where they can take care of themselves, even if it means shifting away from the traditional 9 to 5 working hours.
The cost of not providing the support employees seek can be high.
As organizations establish their reopening strategy and determine how they will approach a potential return to the office, the associated uncertainties have the potential to compound feelings like anxiety and stress or evolve into new concerns. If organizations don’t invest in the mental health of their employees, they’ll end up investing more in recruitment and retention because there will be more turnover. However, employees are often hesitant to share their feelings with their employer because the long-standing stigma associated with mental health challenges leads them to believe there is potential for repercussions. At Microsoft, employees at all levels are now used to share their own mental health experiences in person, on social media and in podcasts. But when leaders stepped up and started telling their stories and sharing their own personal struggles, it really helped transform the culture around the discussion of mental health.
Post-pandemic skills #3: Empathy is Critical
We’re all familiar with the strict, bossy employer archetype. Contrary to this, though, studies have always shown that you get much further with compassion. Deeper relationships help create a much more comfortable, safer feeling atmosphere, which inspires employees to do their best. It also promotes greater collaboration and understanding between team members, irrespective of any differences in age, gender, culture, or personality. Ultimately, when everyone feels respected, understood, and valued, the team’s efficiency will skyrocket.
Reawakening enthusiasm for daily business among frazzled, long-isolated employees requires sensitivity and emotional intelligence.
COVID-19 has left people in a state of grief — figuratively if not literally — and in need of human connection and understanding. Leaders must remain vigilant of the longer-term impact of lockdown, be this any mental health issues that may have arisen or a loss of passion for the job. Showing employees empathy may be as easy as listening with genuine interest. It may involve offering encouragement or incentives. In some cases, it may include referring employees for counseling or deciding to put a halt to a meeting to accommodate staff’s need for a change of pace or some fresh air. Leaders who understand how to cultivate meaningful relationships with their staff are more likely to be able to rally the troops.
Effective and consistent communication is crucial in the post-pandemic workplace. It is a skill that you have to hone continuously.
Also, keep in mind that communication and EQ go hand-in-hand. Having a high EQ means being aware of the emotions of others and being empathic to their feelings and behaviors. As such, you have to learn how to express genuine human connection through verbal and non-verbal ways. This is something you have to do during physical and virtual meetings and sending individual and company-wide communications. When you can score high on communication and emotional intelligence, you will be able to boost the productivity levels of both your physical and virtual teams.
Leaders must remain culturally sensitive and emotionally aware within fast-moving, complex work environments.
This is a challenging time for everyone — stress and anxiety are high. Leaders must be able to remain adaptable and flexible, revising operations effectively to meet changing environments and sweeping reforms. The focus must be on navigating individual and collective emotions with compassion and empathy. Doing so will enable organizations to set initiatives that will ensure each person, and the communities they serve, can thrive.
People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
Empathetic leaders develop deeper relationships with their employees and help foster a psychologically safe atmosphere where all employees can perform at their best. Not only will empathy lead to deeper connections across teams, but it will also aid in creating better understanding and collaboration among team members regardless of gender, culture, personality and age. Teams will ultimately become more productive when there is a shared sense of mutual understanding. Empathy also fuels much-needed innovation within an organization. It produces the kinds of connections and trusted relationships that encourage individuals to experiment and take risks.
Post-pandemic skills #4: Tech Savvy
The pandemic has seen tech platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams take center-stage. Tech solutions of this kind, along with those facilitating workflow management, project-based collaboration and communication in general will continue to be of relevance in the aftermath of coronavirus, not least to ensure companies can withstand future waves and other potential pandemics. Robotics, augmented reality, big data, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things may prove to be additional sources of corporate longevity.
Many organizations are accelerating their digital transformation efforts as a result of the pandemic.
This rapid digital transformation could mean an increasing number of managers will soon be leading “super teams”, or teams in which workers and AI interact to do higher-level work. Managers in a post-pandemic workplace may need to hone a new set of skills in order to effectively lead these teams. Although technical skills differ by position and industry, they are often the baseline of an organization. Leaders who can stay current on the technical evolution and advancement in their fields will be more effective. Like technical skills, technology is changing at an alarming pace and it’s necessary to stay ahead of the curve to remain relevant and successful.
The pandemic has uncovered the urgent need for digital skillsets that help businesses become more aligned with today’s technologies.
Additionally, the post-pandemic work setting calls for investing not only in technologies but also in knowing how to use them for your business. As such, you have to be knowledgeable about systems or tools that you are already or will probably use in your company. This means demonstrating a solid working knowledge about data literacy, cloud computing, and the specific technologies you and your team are already using, such as project management, file sharing, collaboration, and communication tools. Learning and improving is crucial whether there is a pandemic. Ensure your business thrives this year and beyond by focusing on developing and enhancing these key skills.
If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that the greatest weapon against uncertainty is information.
Data is why digital adoption took a quantum leap forward during the crisis, with companies readjusting business priorities to accelerate digitalization from taking years to a matter of weeks. Consider the case of Estee Lauder, the American multinational manufacturer and marketer of beauty products. Before the pandemic, 80% of the company’s multibillion-dollar-a-year revenue came from physical stores. In response to the crisis, Estee Lauder was able to fast-track digital transformation plans already in the works and transition from a leader in retail to a sophisticated online firm able to deliver highly personalized customer experiences.
Three key factors can help you become more data-driven: technology, processes, and people.
The best business plans are a perfect combination of the three. Ultimately, it’s strong, clear leadership and a drive to put data-driven decision making at the core of the business that’s going to help your organization thrive in a post-pandemic world. In an era where navigating fake news and contrasting data is a daily struggle, it’s critical that you’re able to think clearly and rationally as you objectively evaluate information in order to make informed decisions. According to McKinsey Global Institute, data-driven organizations are not only 23 times more likely to acquire customers, but they’re also six times as likely to retain customers and 19 times more likely to be profitable. This is because data makes it possible for enterprises to make more informed decisions and improve the customer experience. The result? Satisfied customers who keep coming back for more.
Post-pandemic skills #5: Foster a Sense of Belonging
As the work landscape transforms, differences in employee work styles, contributions, and skill sets become more pronounced. This is an opportunity for leaders to adjust polices and work structures to allow every employee to bring their full self to work. Look for the value each unique employee contributes. How can you leverage strengths, revisit divergent ideas, or elevate overlooked voices? This is an opening to not only respect and include diverse perspectives, now leaders can uplift, value and strengthen employee diversity within their own teams.
Along with embedding wellbeing into the workplace, leaders need to foster a sense of belonging within their teams.
Everyone wants to feel they are respected, treated fairly, included within the group, and connected to the larger goals of the organization. Remote work can increase feelings of isolation and loneliness, and managers of virtual teams should make an effort to combat that by fostering connection and belonging. One way to create a sense of belonging is to make sure the people in your workforce feel they can be their authentic selves. For example, you could model authenticity by making light of the fact that your child has come to visit you on a Zoom call.
Leaders are responsible for making sure that employees have equal access to opportunities at work.
Technology platforms can play a significant role by providing similar access to tools and features, but leaders need to go further. True equity is about creating conditions that generate similar outcomes for diverse individuals — irrespective of levels, backgrounds and social status. It is a well-known fact that women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. In a recent survey of North American female employees, one in four women said they were thinking about reducing or leaving paid work due to the pandemic, citing company inflexibility, caring responsibilities and stress.
There will be no return to normal, but instead there will be a different way of doing things.
Future requires a new approach and a distinguished set of leadership skills to handle the upcoming challenges and the fragility that comes with everything that people have been going through during this pandemic time. The new leaders must recognize that human care has to be connected with smart business practice, and that employees are much more than just agents of the company. They are also caregivers, parents, teachers, etc. with a ton of responsibilities outside the workplace. New leaders decisions not only has to be based on facts but also demonstrate empathy, emotional intelligence and vulnerability.
Diversity, inclusion and equity are now more important than ever.
Leaders of virtual teams must foster connection and belonging as remote work can increase feelings of isolation and loneliness. We are social beings, everyone desires to feel included within the group, connected to the larger goals, respected and treated fairly. It is leadership responsibility to make sure people in their workforce have a sense of belonging. Communicating frequently, checking in on your team members individually, exploring different communication methods like video, voice, email, chat, etc. will help empowering engaged employees. Leaders who understand how to cultivate meaningful relationships with their staff are more likely to succeed. An empowered hybrid workforce and a leadership that is more empathetic, sensing and strategic will drive towards a successful post-pandemic business with new management approaches and upgraded executive capabilities.
With the world continuing to slowly open up, who can say when new and unexpected challenges will arise. The best leaders are the ones who will be able to evaluate all they’ve learned and experienced during the pandemic. Taking in the above examples, you’ll be able to tackle any challenges head-on and create a much stronger, longer-lasting organization in the process.
As we emerge from a post-pandemic world, leaders can no longer hide from the decisions they need to make and attempt to ride out the wave.
By thinking differently, listening to their people and using the different tools and technologies at their disposal, leaders can take this opportunity to proactively shape their ways of working and culture and lead their organizations in a brighter and more positive future of work. For the pessimist, the glass looks half empty but for a leader, the pandemic has brought the greatest opportunity of all times — Survival! It has created a new ethos of humanity that thrives on grit and spirit.
Leading in a post-pandemic world will not be a cakewalk.
However, leaders who embrace innovation, build an inclusive diverse culture and provide leadership development opportunities will find the new unchartered terrain easier to navigate. While there are many challenges ahead of us, I know that true leaders will approach them with integrity and intelligence. Remember, it is not the position that is important, but the effort and drive to do well — not only for yourself, but for others — that matters.
As the post-pandemic work environment evolves, so do the essential skills for the post-pandemic leader.
As more populations get vaccinated and communities can open safely, there will be new challenges and uncertainties. However, true leaders will reflect on what they have learned and accomplished over the past year and a half and continue to approach each new challenge with empathy, agility and data-driven decision making to come out as a stronger organization than ever before.
Integrating these key skills into your post-pandemic leadership will be vital and will help you get the most out of your team.
This survival kit of post-pandemic skills should go some way to ensuring success in the face of adversity. If companies want to go one better than coping — if they intend to thrive — they will also need a generous helping of human creativity and innovation. Sustainably breathing life back into the economy will call for imaginative solutions. Do you have any bright ideas? Let me know in the comments below!
Digital Dandy. Hacker From Heart. Workaholic. Coding Artist. Self-made.