Four leadership styles for the post-pandemic era

by Stephen Conmy on Feb 14, 2022

leadership styles

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The Covid pandemic shook the world. Your board may have heard of the ‘Great Resignation’. Did you know that people’s attitudes towards work and jobs have changed and new leadership styles may be needed at the executive level in your organisation?

The leadership styles of just three years ago don’t appear to work in the new ‘post-pandemic’ world. Has your executive team talked about this? Have leadership styles been discussed at recent board meetings? Perhaps not, but it may be worth examining as a board member and as someone who has oversight of your company’s culture.

Much has been written about the ‘Great Resignation’. In this unexplored world of work, outdated leadership approaches don’t appear to perform; and board members have much to learn about what happens next.

Many commentators believe that western economies are experiencing the ‘Great Resignation’ due to outdated corporate leadership styles.

However, going into this pandemic, corporate leadership wasn’t where it should have been. Leaders were not resilient, creative, or inspiring enough. Businesses were stuck in outmoded mindsets reinforced by outdated technologies. This had disastrous effects.

Organisations now need leaders who are willing to step up and quickly identify new ways of doing business.

Gallup studied management before the pandemic and found that 82 per cent of managers were not very good at leading people.  Gallup also found that half of the people who voluntarily left a job did so to avoid a terrible manager.

However, business leaders and executives are also well aware of their shortcomings. Only half of 2,800 business leaders surveyed by Gartner in 2019 thought they are well-positioned to lead their organisations into the future.

As a result of the pandemic, boards are now being forced to look carefully at their executive leadership deficiencies and where they can improve.

The pandemic made it easier to identify poor leaders

An event like the COVID-19 pandemic has made it easier for firms to identify their bad leaders.

It’s easy for poor leaders to slip by when there are fewer urgent threats to navigate. In tough times, however, organisations depend on their leaders to go above and beyond what they were doing before.

As a board member, you should consider how any outdated approaches to leadership can be changed to address any current and future challenges.

Below we examine some fundamental leadership approaches – the old and the new – and why they matter as organisations emerge from the pandemic.

Four old style leadership styles versus the new and emerging styles

1: The outdated thinking versus the new emerging way to think
Pre-pandemic, leaders would boast about how ‘busy’ they were. Long work hours were seen as a badge of honour. This thinking meant leaders were driven to achieve results during a crisis no matter the cost. Due to this thinking, leaders often sacrificed their own health and the health of their colleagues for company goals.

Today’s most successful leaders know how to help people thrive. To build a culture of well-being that fosters engagement and productivity, leaders must balance the need for effective prioritisation of work with the need to care for their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. If leaders take care of all of these aspects, they are more likely to succeed and thrive.

2: The outdated mindset versus the emerging mindset
In the outdated mindset, change was not a priority. Businesses liked leaders who were ‘ready for change’ but not, perhaps, comfortable with change. Change was seen as a linear process to be managed.

A new and non-traditional mindset is ‘change agile’. Change is now defined as a constant and unrelenting state of transformation. Leaders need to be ‘change leaders’ who strive to improve themselves and their teams.

3: The outdated approach versus the emerging approach
An outdated leader is one who still leads through a hierarchy. Traditionally, leaders were taught to lead from the front. It was vital for them to present themselves like a crusading warrior leading their teams into battle. This leadership model also placed a strong emphasis on the chain of command, cutting off leaders from those in the field: this reduced engagement and inhibited creativity.

New leaders embrace inclusion and psychological safety. Good leaders are now humble “servant leaders” who see their role as giving back to the organisation and enabling everyone to reach their fullest potential. With such an approach, everyone has the opportunity to challenge and be challenged. These leaders ensure that all team members perform to the highest level possible.

4: The old attitude versus the new attitude
An old leadership attitude is one where the person feels they have all the answers. In old-style leadership, leaders think they must constantly demonstrate their knowledge and skills. They often have a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude. They fail to understand that good ideas can and should originate from all levels of an organisation.

Good leaders should display a learning mindset. Respected leaders should not be a know-it-all but should aspire to be a learn-it-all. This requires leaders to demonstrate confident uncertainty, admit things they don’t know and seek solutions from colleagues and the people they lead. It requires leaders to display equal measures of humility and expertise.

Relearning leadership

While 69% of leaders believe that their organisations have managed the transition to remote and hybrid working smoothly, only half (49%) of employees agree, according to a recent report from the Capgemini Research Institute: “Relearning Leadership: Creating the Hybrid Workplace Leader”.

Hybrid workplaces present unique difficulties for organisations, requiring them to reassess leadership attributes such as authenticity, emotional intelligence (EI), flexibility to change, and the ability to create a culture of trust where employees feel empowered.

If your organisation is experiencing difficulties retaining and recruiting talented people, you may, as a board, need to thoroughly examine your executive team’s approach to management. It may need to be brought up to speed to function in the new world order.

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There is a Chinese saying that goes – a fish rots from the head. Company culture is a crucial weapon. Board members, directors and investors now know that a critical success metric is maintaining an excellent corporate culture.

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