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How has leadership changed, if at all, in 2020?

This year has brought huge changes for business. The very mention of 2020 has become closely associated with the Covid-19 pandemic in peoples’ minds. Decision-making within every industry sector has been coloured by uncertainty, improbability and unpredictableness. A recent survey of global leaders found that 48 per cent were unable to say what their commercial future would be after the dust caused by the current crisis settles. Against an ever-changing backdrop, here are just a few of the ways that leaders have changed their approach to react, adapt, and succeed.

Agile leadership
To navigate the storms and grasp new opportunities, leaders require an entrepreneurial mindset. This means being open to new ideas, revisiting previous decisions and altering strategies in order to deal with rapidly shifting circumstances. In many ways this was already a requirement pre-2020. Digital disruption caused by new technologies has been a catalyst for change across many business sectors. However, the current Covid-19 pandemic has escalated this. Now more than ever, leaders must keep costs, workforce requirements and the changing economic landscape under constant review. By remaining flexible in their approach, they will firstly, be able to utilise resources effectively and secondly, grasp chances to innovate, thus securing future growth.

Visible leadership
At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK government held daily briefings to stem concerns and relay public health information. This year, many business leaders have also split their time between decision-making in the boardroom and communicating their intentions to key stakeholders and employees. Knowing what you stand for and sharing this vision - in order to inspire and galvanise teams - has never been so important. Ironically, the Covid-19 pandemic has prevented many leaders from making their presence known in a physical sense, so it has become important to be ‘visible’ in other ways. Scheduling in dedicated team meetings online and making time for feedback has become a new strategic priority.

A human touch
Protecting employees has become a key consideration for leaders in 2020. A survey by insurance company AXA found that nearly two-thirds of workers were experiencing an increase in work-related stress due to the pandemic. As workforces continue to work remotely, or in challenging circumstances, there has been a real need to prioritise their health, hygiene, and wellbeing. As a result, leaders are taking a more compassionate approach. Not everyone has embraced additional sick days, flexible schedules, and remote working, but the Covid-19 pandemic has certainly encouraged companies to acknowledge the link between work and home life.

Collaborative leadership
This year’s pandemic is unprecedented, making it impossible for those in command to ‘know it all’ or have an immediate answer. In 2020, it has become more acceptable to admit vulnerabilities, causing a growth in collaborative leadership where CEOs and managers share resources and knowledge. In the NHS, this extends to employees too. This winter, four London NHS trusts have put aside competitive recruitment processes to create a shared pool of temporary workers. A quick phone call to ask, ‘how are you tackling this issue?’ has become especially important. Leaders with a strong business network at their disposal are now reaping the benefits.

The Covid-19 pandemic has placed extraordinary demands on leaders, who need to use every tool at their disposal. Traditionally sought-after management qualities, from resilience to confidence, and an ability to motivate others, continue to be incredibly valuable assets. However, in a year like no other, a different approach is needed. To ensure success, leaders will also need to reassess and reprioritise in-line with changing circumstances.