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Coronavirus pandemic makes leaders open to change

Business leaders are more adaptable and open to further skills development than they used to be due to the coronavirus pandemic and its unpredictability, according to MD of marketing and digital at Direct Line Mark Evans.

Speaking on day one of the Economist Innovation@Work Virtual Week, Evans described how business leaders are now much more “change ready” due to letting go of insecurities they had about learning around their peers.

“Although it’s a paradox, because people’s lives have been constricted and constrained, there’s meta-change happening in the world of work.

“When you no longer have to sit in the same office to partake in the learning process, it removes a lot of pressure. Other leaders have said that they don’t feel as intimidated when learning online,” he said.

Evans was joined by Chris Baker, managing director EMEA, Anaplan, Elke Reichart, chief digital officer, TUI Group and Rob Doepel partner and UK&I energy market leader, EY.

The panel, ‘Command and control’ vs agile: how can leadership learn to let go? took place yesterday (1 February).

Baker agreed with Evans, arguing the pandemic had taught leaders how to trust and empower its people in a new environment.

He said: “As a leader, not being able to walk around an office and see if someone is struggling has meant I can’t ask them to have a chat with me over a cup of tea and talk things through.

“So, we’ve learnt how to give people a virtual hug at the time and when to then give them direction.”

The two speakers signified a growing trend across businesses which could impact how HR rolls out training and development courses.

In January 2020, the CEMS Leadership in a Post-Covid-19 World report found that COVID-19 has led to a shift in the way business managers think about leadership.

Where hard skills such as programming, language knowledge and software proficiency were once prized, now softer, more humane attributes and competencies have gained greater value in the wake of the crisis.

Baker also argued leaders were now more open and vulnerable with their staff.

He said: “Achieving work goals has been that much harder during the pandemic, and we’ve been doing it in lonelier places, away from our teams.

“Even though we’re the leaders, we’ve been in the exact same position as the rest of our staff over the past year, and we’ve had to be emotionally available to deal with it all.”

Further reading:

Why kindness should be fundamental for leadership

Leadership skills most in demand in early 2021 job market

COVID-19 has caused a shift in leadership skills