Has coronavirus sparked a new era of leadership?

Caring for teams in challenging situations has grown demand for leaders that are compassionate and courageous according to the panel at the latest London HR Connection.

Speaking at the event yesterday (27 May), Jan Levy, managing director at business development company Three Hands, said courage has been and will be, one of the most important traits of a leader will need in years to come.

Courage was the most important skill flagged by Unilever CEO Paul Polman when taking the business through a rebrand and sustainability journey according to Levy. 

He said: “Polman told everyone in the room it takes a great amount of courage to put people and planet alongside profit, and to commit to cutting emissions while doubling the business.

“Leaders will always need courage to challenge the status quo and perhaps now more than ever.”

Levy said business leaders need to be clued into and connected to current societal and environmental issues in order to effectively lead a team.

“When you think about the challenges that this world presents to us right now, business leaders have got to know what’s going on.

“From climate change to diversity and inclusion, there are societal issues at play which effect businesses and consumers which affect our futures as businesses and individuals,” he explained.

The debate also questioned whether classic leadership skills such as competitiveness and command and control, are still fit for purpose in this new era of work.

Levy said: “For each of these classic skills there is probably a new one, something that can replace it in the 21st century and not just skills, but mindsets, behaviours and values.

“For example, command and control could be replaced by influencing without authority and intelligence replaced with emotional intelligence.”

Paul Iredale, group head of talent and leadership development at gambling and gaming company ‎William Hill, said he thinks that over the past 16 months we have entered a new era of leadership.

He said: “I think the classic skills like linear [thinking] can still be relevant, however, to be the best leader you now need those new skills too."

Softer and more humane leadership skills have gained greater value in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis and have been used by leaders throughout the pandemic, said Iredale. 

“These new skills are an add on, an extra layer to classic [leadership] skills that will help businesses thrive and reach higher achievements,” he explained. 

Sharon Clews, part of the leadership development team at Apple, said all of these more human skills are critical post-pandemic.

She said: “These are skills that actually allow us to bring our authentic selves to work.

“They allow us to be more collaborative rather than strictly competitive all the time and if we think about what we need to operate within our life, business and society, it’s those human-centric and emotional skills.”


The importance of good leadership:

Diverse leadership remains key issue in future of business, say MBAs

What you need to be an effective leader

Making the leadership leap