The pandemic changed the world overnight, an event that nobody thought possible. Not even the SARS pandemic of 2003 prepared business leaders for it. Companies were forced to lay off employees, causing a nationwide financial crisis. Mental health also became a more significant issue than it already is. As a result, business leaders faced a unique challenge, and possibly their biggest one yet.
How do you encourage your organization in times like this? It’s almost two years since COVID-19 became a pandemic, and new cases aren’t stopping. Some of us might be able to go back to the office now, but our lives are still far from what they used to be.
The traditional methods of leadership are currently being challenged. So far, these are the most remarkable leadership changes we’ve seen:
Behavior and Mindset Topped Predefined Responses
Most leaders prepare predefined responses for unanticipated challenges — a fire, natural disaster, or any other emergency, for example. Predefined responses ensure that companies can rely on their command-and-control structure to maintain order while carrying out actions. But during a crisis, such as a pandemic, the command-and-control structure proved ineffective.
Instead, what leaders needed was behavior and a mindset that maintained their logical and rational thinking. It was their tool against overreacting to the crisis and looking ahead instead. During the pandemic, leaders couldn’t congregate and collect information, then make a rash decision.
In such a chaotic, high-stress situation, leadership pivoted toward empowering their teams instead of simply commanding them. They focused on organizing groups to help their company adapt. Collaboration boosted because leaders were no longer just authoritative figures. They’ve become a figure of stability.
The Emotional Intelligence of Leaders Were Challenged
In schools and the corporate world, people are valued based on their IQ. Though not everyone took a formal IQ test, their IQ is generally assumed based on their SAT or employment test results. If you’ve got a below-average IQ, no one would believe you’re capable of leading or excelling in any field.
But now, high IQs aren’t as glorified anymore. Even before the pandemic, society has realized that intelligence should be accompanied by empathy. This means aside from IQ, EQ — or emotional quotient — is also essential. Leaders are especially urged to hone their emotional intelligence. It would be crucial to understanding and relating to their employees more.
True enough, leaders with a high emotional intelligence adapted to the pandemic better. They were able to support their employees who struggled in balancing work and childcare at home. They didn’t question their employees’ need to prioritize some personal matters over work. This new style of leadership can help organizations feel safer in their work environments. Each employee can feel seen as a human being, not just as an employee.
Compassion Became Critical
The exact emotion leaders expressed during the pandemic was compassion. Numerous studies show that compassionate leaders perform better and promote more loyalty and engagement in their organizations. But during a crisis, compassion is twice more critical. While it may look like a time for leaders to exercise control, it’s a time for them to tune in to their emotions. They can acknowledge their personal fears and anxieties. Doing so can help them respond better to employees and colleagues who also feel overwhelmed by the pandemic.
Hence, from now on, compassion will be essential in the workplace, making leaders more approachable. Expressing emotions may no longer be seen as unprofessional, as long as it helps the organization get work done.
Leaders Unlearned and Relearned
Long before the pandemic, leaders are already urged to unlearn some of their toxic habits. These include downplaying mental health issues and glorifying overworking. There had been a time when leaders viewed productivity as dedicating as much time at work as possible. Working hours were valued over actual work done.
Thankfully, many leaders changed their perspectives and relearned how productivity is more accurately measured. But now, every leader must unlearn their incorrect notions about productivity. The work-from-home setup stopped employees from sitting down all day to do their tasks. They divided their time and worked at their own pace. And they still finished their tasks within a day.
If more leaders realize that productivity should be based on output and not time, employees can be more motivated to work. Leaders can also grow more empathetic toward their employees. They’d understand the impact of overworking on mental health as well. Fortunately, effective empathetic leadership training offers these lessons. It helps leaders become stronger and inspirational individuals during this challenging time.
The pandemic might’ve done nothing praiseworthy, but at least, it compelled business leaders to value their organizations more. Even if they weren’t in the same boat with their employees, they could still depend on each other as human beings instead of co-workers.