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Leadership Approaches During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic outbreak has caused a social-economic crisis. It has had a significant impact on business processes. Leaders face challenges relating to a rapidly changing environment. Therefore, the unexpected outcomes of the issue should be solved by adequate leadership approaches. The situation demands adjustments in team management and the personal behavior of administrators. The report analyzes the crucial aspects of management, required attitudes, and relationships with employees. It investigates such concepts as change management, flexible leadership, and the strategic impact of the COVID-19 crisis on different approaches. The findings reveal the importance of adaptive, transparent, and participative leadership.

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Introduction

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, governments, public and private organizations have changed the way they work. The COVID-19 pandemic is the current coronavirus pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. As a result, the enterprises’ production has been suspended, accompanied by the closing of entertainment establishments. In such conditions, leaders of all levels need anti-crisis management skills. Leadership is the process of organizing work in a group, where a leader is a person who is listened to and trusted. His/her main task in a crisis is to integrate the organization not to waste energy on internal inconsistencies but to withstand and act effectively in difficult external conditions.

The consequences of the pandemic are more complex and not limited to rising unemployment and decreasing incomes of the population. The International Labor Organization (2021) claims that the pandemic crisis will reduce working hours globally by 6.7%, equivalent to 195 million full-time workers. According to the International Labor Organization (2021), more than 80% of employees worldwide have been transferred to remote work and flexible working hours. Moreover, the labor market is changing under the influence of quarantine and self-isolation. For example, the teleworking regime, which many organizations have switched to, simultaneously opens up new opportunities and exposes the difficulties in conventional working methods.

The question that needs to be answered is what leadership approaches will be considered best in the COVID-19 situation. The style should address the issues of the pandemic for the labor market, business processes, social responsibility in terms of the pandemic consequences. According to Deloitte (2020), three typical crisis phases are “respond, recover, and thrive” (p. 4). Consequently, each leadership approach depends on these periods, which demand different actions and behavior.

The essay focuses on varied leadership approaches taken by leaders in the COVID-19 situation; it includes an introduction, discussion, and conclusion. The main body of the report consists of several parts: leadership approaches, change management, flexible leadership with discussing the changes in the way of thinking. It explores the role of flexible management with examples of actions taken by leaders to face current challenges. The last part of the discussion emphasizes the COVID-19 crisis’s strategic importance for leadership and its impact on the future. It also provides several recommendations for improving the situation in organizations regarding leadership and work environment. The report will demonstrate that, even though each phase requires adaptation of styles, leadership approaches are similar; response and management have common characteristics. Due to this aspect, leaders should be empathic, flexible, directive, and participative.

Methods

The method used in completing the essay is the literature review. The sources were not limited; the information was taken from academic books and peer-reviewed academic journals. These types of sources were used to form the theoretical basis for the work. For more comprehensive research, the literature review included materials from well-established media, for instance, Forbes and reports of notable companies such as Deloitte. Scholarly literature was found through using web search engines Google Scholar and ProQuest. Overall, the field of research is well studied, providing the vast majority of relevant sources and recent examples.

Leadership Approaches

Due to the restrictive measures taken to eliminate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations face new challenges. For example, there is the need to switch to remote work; companies’ performance suffers from economic instability and unusual business methods (Deloitte, 2020). Consequently, leaders of organizations should be prepared to meet difficulties that require different management styles to succeed in the new environment. The work environment presents several challenges that define leaders’ approaches and direction of management.

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, there are several most critical difficulties for leaders that can be identified. First, it is the management of geographically distributed teams; many employees are forced to work remotely. Therefore, leaders need to organize work so that people from different locations continue to work as a team (Dirani et al., 2020). Second, it is challenging to achieve results under uncertainty as the unpredictability of the current situation forces leaders to be flexible and quickly navigate an environment (Deloitte, 2020). The latter is characterized by a lack of a clear understanding of the roles and distribution of work tasks within the organization (Deloitte, 2020). Third, it is vital to keep employees and businesses safe depending on the industry, but the spread of the disease makes executives consider personal safety risks.

Moreover, along with safety, there is a need for designing and implementing new strategies. The pandemic has forced many organizations to rebuild and conduct business in new ways, adapting to circumstances, finding and embracing new opportunities (Dirani et al., 2020). In these conditions, leaders need to develop new approaches and direct the team (Dirani et al., 2020). Fifth, business development should be performed according to competitive pricing. For many business sectors, achieving results in the face of rapidly changing demand for goods and services has become an important factor (Deloitte, 2020). An example is Uber that used Uber-X sedan vehicles to deliver the most demanded products such as food, medicine, and parcels to the communities (Scheepers and Bogie, 2020). The business seeks to bring to the market products that are especially needed (Deloitte, 2020). Finally, the time requires managing with limited resources; companies have fallen below planned revenues, some employees had to be laid off, and supply chains were disrupted.

Change Management

The concept of change management varies regarding internal and external circumstances. For intraorganizational activities, the process of change can be represented as the transformation of one object or process into another or become a completely different product. The companies have faced several types of changes: management, technological, product, and social changes (Hoek, 2020). Management changes include modifying the organizational structure of management, the company’s personnel policy, relations within the organization, and motivation system (Cameron and Green, 2019). Technological advances comprise the introduction of new production technology, modernization of production facilities, and the use of resource-saving technologies (Cameron and Green, 2019). Product changes concern developments in the range of products, the use of new materials, and the product’s profitability when introduced to the market (Cameron and Green, 2019). Finally, social changes are the emergence of new functional ties, changes in the conditions of employment, changes in the principle of interaction between units (Cameron and Green, 2019). In general, change management means modifying business units and transforming them into new legal forms.

Organizational change is accompanied by resistance to change and management. The latter includes two fundamental processes: the planning process and the change implementation process. The implementation of these processes, at the same time, should minimize resistance from employees, and the costs for the organization maximize the effectiveness of change actions. Furthermore, changes always cause an increase in opposition from the company’s employees because it involves personal changes (Hoek, 2020). For example, in COVID-19 working conditions and the related transfer of most employees to teleworking, unusual circumstances require new technical skills from the staff (Hoek, 2020). Furthermore, a change in the goods variety produced leads to the fact that the company faces new competitors. Finally, in most cases, a change in leadership results in a difference in the company’s business processes and personnel policy (Hoek, 2020). Thus, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, change management should be spoken of primarily as a systemic process in which organizational goals, values, technologies, and business processes are transformed.

Flexible Leadership

During the COVID-19 pandemic, companies have less time to assess change management costs and prepare measures for the steady implementation of changes. As a result, the risk of resistance to change has increased. However, the management does not have the chance to postpone modifications due to the global nature of the process. Organizations have switched to rapid planning of changes to have time to adapt employees and the processes in the enterprise to the new conditions (Donthu and Gustafsson, 2020). Thus, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a critical success factor in change management becomes the organization’s ability to quickly mobilize all available resources, including financial, managerial, technological, to ensure the process of change. The example is provided by Mercedes and Burrell (2021), the CEO of Phoenix Rising, a medical clinic, approaches difficulties as a chance to develop therapeutic services to patients via a telehealth platform. Although a change management program usually takes at least two years to ensure a successful implementation, and a digital transformation program takes at least five years, these processes take several weeks or months (Mercedes and Burrell, 2021). Therefore, these days, the adaptation of both managers and employees is instantaneous.

For large corporations, the successful implementation of digital transformation changes should exceed the specified time frame. This is because the process of information exchange within and outside the organization is accelerated, requiring more staff concentration on the tasks included in the organization’s development program (Deloitte, 2020). For a leader, there is a need to create an information environment that allows active connections with all employees, regardless of their location, and to combine internal interaction with the corporate one (Mercedes and Burrell, 2021). Thus, during the spread of the coronavirus, some companies, reducing the decision-making time, benefit from achieving results in the face of increasing uncertainty.

As an example of leaders and staff unsuccessfully adapting to rapidly changing realities, corporations that are closed and inflexible, more focused on profit, have proved to be inert and unable to respond promptly to change. For other companies, the pandemic forced them to focus on the most critical changes and reduce the time for making decisions, thereby ensuring an effective change management process (Donthu and Gustafsson, 2020). The examples are Ford, General Motors, Toyota, and Tesla; the enterprises have repurposed their production facilities, offering ventilators rather than automobiles (Dirani et al., 2020). Overall, the coronavirus pandemic has forced companies to step up their online team-building efforts, and new ways of working have emerged that focus on speed and reach (Donthu and Gustafsson, 2020). Therefore, a leader must be flexible, advancing creative thinking and acting out of the ordinary.

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Changing the Way of Thinking

At the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, agile leaders are required to shift their mindset and the way of thinking of their team, focusing on the future rather than the present. This implies several significant changes needed on the path to recovery. The unpredictability and hectic activities of the initial crisis response period are replaced by a more persistent, albeit still uncomfortable, sense of uncertainty (Dirani et al., 2020). The situation asks the leaders to determine the destination, emphasizing what place the company will occupy in the market at the end of the recovery period (Deloitte, 2020). In addition, the leader’s focus shifts from the narrower issues of employee safety and business continuity to the broader concerns of getting back to the market (Deloitte, 2020). Therefore, leaders must choose a destination to achieve the results that stakeholders want, not in terms of internal processes.

The goals of the managerial activity are shifting from confronting the crisis and ensuring the organization’s functioning to leading the transition from a destroyed present to a sustainable future. Planning changes are short-term contingency programs, medium, and long-term economic strategies to understand the consequences of the crisis on activities, employees, and funding. Hence, it is imperative to find financial resources for a growing company (Deloitte, 2020). Leadership behavior is also changing from reactive to proactive to rebuild the organization (McGowan, 2020). Thus, leaders must seize the opportunity to energize their team, design a prosperous future and adopt mutual trust as a catalyst to achieve their goal as soon as possible.

Strategic Importance of COVID-19 Crisis on Leadership

New challenges are also associated with remote work; leaders need to unite a team that is no longer tied to the office and shared space. Organizations begin to interact in new ways: in video chats and instant messengers, managers have to look for other quality control methods (Brower, 2020). In the context of the pandemic, leadership skills will also acquire a new meaning – to unite the team in challenging times (Dirani et al., 2020). The qualities of a leader that best predict their performance at work depend on the context of the work environment (Dirani et al., 2020). Most managers have strengths and weaknesses that, when properly contextualized, can enhance leadership potential. On the one hand, working in an organization that is encouraged to take risks requires some leader qualities. On the other hand, operating in a company with a more cautious approach to doing business requires different skills.

At present, in a pandemic, several important qualities make a leader most likely to succeed. First of all, it is empathy, namely, the manifestation of care, attention, and compassion for people, understanding the reasons for people’s behavior. It also includes trust and the open expression of feelings and emotions (Dirani et al., 2020). The leader should acknowledge the basic needs – physiological needs, safety, the desire to maintain a job, and income (Dirani et al., 2020). Feelings of belonging to a group or company should also be examined; employees will support the company’s goals if their needs are met.

The leader should remain honest and not allow lies and distortion of information about the state of affairs in the company, as false data can cause chaos and panic. During informational meetings, it is crucial to dispel the myths and fears of people, to refute rumors. It is recommended to share experiences of overcoming difficult situations and give instructions (Donthu and Gustafsson, 2020). For instance, if the company is suffering financial losses, a plan to handle the crisis should be presented (Dirani et al., 2020). It is also important to ask employees for ideas and advice on how to improve your strategy. Thus, if employees know that the manager honestly shares the difficulty with them, they will provide excellent suggestions for reducing everyone’s losses.

A leader must lead by example; when urging workers not to leave the country to reduce the risk of infection, the manager should also follow this rule. In addition, he/she needs to demonstrate optimism and promise a bright future, even in the face of catastrophic circumstances. Finally, the leader must be in full view and inform non-stop about what is happening. The manager is supposed to be the primary source of information for employees, customers, and partners. All stakeholders should learn about the security measures taken in the organization, efforts to support people, and how to get help.

Impact on Future of Leadership

The current situation may cause employers to pay more attention to workers and their needs. The attention focus will be shifted to rethinking ways to motivate (McGowan, 2020). Not every company will be able to take and afford big measures, but some corporations have been investing in employees and their future (McGowan, 2020). For example, they take care of their health and give them the opportunity to work from home or pay for a taxi to the office in case of an emergency. The companies are also interested in enhancing employees’ education and skills necessary in the future (Brower, 2020). The next step may be helping workers’ mental health regarding how traumatic an experience the pandemic and self-isolation have become for most employees.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The global pandemic has demonstrated how quickly and radically the working conditions of a leader can change. Many companies have discovered entirely new ways of doing business, and this experience can be valuable after the end of the pandemic. The COVID-19 will change the context of the enterprises’ operations; in particular, businesses’ activities’ strategies and technological principles may modify significantly. The coronavirus crisis revealed the low quality of the information provided by top management and, in general, mistrust and resistance of employees. Most business representatives predict a long-term change in the practice of using information technology and office space. These changes will primarily become a challenge for the company’s leadership, whose task is to build effective interaction in the entire management structure and ensure the fulfillment of business tasks.

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, leaders need to act in an environment of unpredictability and incomplete information. They must find answers quickly and understand that the crisis has hit simultaneously the health care, economy, society, politics, and culture. As a result, dealing with a problem requires adaptive leadership, which involves the following several actions. The first is to anticipate likely future challenges, trends, and opportunities. The second is to communicate these tasks in a way that everyone understands and helps to accomplish. The third is to adapt, constantly learn new things, and change plans if necessary. Finally, leaders should remain open, make the decision-making process as transparent as possible, and be open to criticism and feedback.

The recommendations include paying attention to certain qualities of a leader and the peculiarities of obtaining a result. The shift to remote work revealed a lack of autonomy and the ability for employees to prioritize tasks. Therefore, it is necessary to decide what digital system will be used and teach employees how to operate. If this is not done, all processes in the company will be fragmented. The situation demands from top managers fundamentally new communication tactics; hence, the priority task during isolation is operational, daily communications with employees not in official statements but a live form. Meetings are an essential tool for both offline and online interaction. Even though there is no longer lockdown, remote work will persist. Consequently, team building and training can be replaced without loss by distance classes with interactive elements. In addition, the lack of visible boundaries between home and work affects employee’s effectiveness. It is possible to observe the hygiene of remote work; for example, the company may introduce hours of silence – a regulated time for an employee to work independently, without meetings and messages in messengers.

To sum up, the COVID-19 crisis requires leaders to continually assess their actions and be willing to change them as new information becomes available about the results of past decisions. Everything should be regulated, involving determining the best ways to act, collecting and interpreting information, planning based on the received data, determining criteria for success or failure, and constant monitoring of critical data. In addition, a precise algorithm is needed, defining how new information and trends should influence stakeholders’ behavior.

Reference List

Brower, T. (2020) ‘5 predictions about how coronavirus will change the future of work’, Forbes, Web.

Cameron, E., and Green, M. (2019) Making sense of change management: A complete guide to the models, tools and techniques of organizational change. London: Kogan Page Publishers.

Deloitte. (2020) Leadership styles of the future: How COVID-19 is shaping leadership beyond the crisis. Web.

Dirani, K. M., Abadi, M., Alizadeh, A., Barhate, B., Garza, R. C., Gunasekara, N., Ibrahim, G. and Majzun, Z. (2020) ‘Leadership competencies and the essential role of human resource development in times of crisis: A response to Covid-19 pandemic’, Human Resource Development International, 23(4), pp. 380-394.

Donthu, N. and Gustafsson, A. (2020) ‘Effects of COVID-19 on business and research’, Journal of Business Research, 117, pp. 284–289.

Hoek, R. V. (2020). Responding to COVID-19 supply chain risks—Insights from supply chain change management, total cost of ownership and supplier segmentation theory. Logistics, 4(4), pp. 23-41.

International Labor Organization. (World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2021. Web.

McGowan, H. E. (2020) ‘How the coronavirus pandemic is accelerating the future of work’, Forbes, Web.

Mercedes, D. and Burrell, D. N. (2021) ‘Managerial adaptability and business strategic change in age of COVID-19’, PSU Research Review (published online ahead of print). Web.

Scheepers, C. B. and Bogie, J. (2020) ‘Uber Sub-Saharan Africa: Contextual leadership for sustainable business model innovation during COVID-19’, Emerald Emerging Markets Case Studies, 10(3), pp. 1-18.

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