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How Industry Leadership Has Changed in the Wake of the Pandemic

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Industry leadership has always changed in response to world events. Many who led by command and control have given way to leading by influence. Some leaders have replaced top-down coercion with integrity and dedication to an organization rather than to holding power within it.

Leadership was already evolving, more rapidly in some industries than in others. The pandemic, however, stopped everything cold. An unprecedented reckoning, its onset was a great equalizer among companies and their leaders. The sea change caused corporate leaders to forge new partnerships and consider alternative ways of working. It also sparked a reckoning with their companies’ stances on social issues like diversity.

Long-term strategic plans went out the window. Even the strongest leaders crumbled if they weren’t agile enough to pivot quickly. The companies that are weathering the COVID storm are also transforming how they do business for the long term. Here are some of the ways industry leaders are changing the game in the wake of the pandemic.

Leaders Are Prioritizing the Power of Connection

Face time with company leadership has always been important to employees. It’s particularly critical when those employees are anxious about their jobs, their health, and their futures. Absent leadership can cause chaos and panic among the ranks.

Popping into the employee holiday party to press the proverbial flesh with a few employees simply will not suffice. Now, there may no longer even be such a party, and many employees will remain working remotely. Nonetheless, leaders need to engage with them frequently, no matter where they are.

Fortunately, 21st-century technology makes that connection possible. A virtual conference platform allows leaders to interact face-to-face with anyone, no matter where they are. And this technology goes well beyond engaging employees. It allows everyone in an industry’s community to interact, including customers, suppliers, partners, investors, and more. If the pandemic has revealed anything, it’s that virtual connection is a vital component of your communication strategy.

Putting faces with leaders’ names, even if virtually, restores confidence and trust in a company. The ability to connect using technology means leaders can’t hide behind the curtain any longer. They need to use the power of connection to lead, or they will fall behind.

Leaders Are Focusing on Internal Processes and Systems

There is a tendency for companies to seek inorganic ways to grow rapidly through mergers, acquisitions, and strategic partnerships. With so many companies struggling to survive right now, these opportunities may be low-hanging fruit ripe for the picking. Smart leaders, however, will avoid the temptation.

The pandemic laid bare the lack of self-sufficiency and weak supply chains that companies rely on. Now leaders are looking internally rather than externally for growth and strength. Investing in operational capabilities is how industries will scale their businesses in a post-pandemic world.

Safety, human resources, supply chains, internal programs and processes, communications infrastructure, technology, and quality improvement will generate growth. Growth from within will increase revenue faster than increasing the external costs of doing business. Companies can reach, attract, and retain more customers once they prioritize internal efficiencies.

Industry dealmakers whose expertise and talent are in mergers and acquisitions might find themselves ill-suited for post-pandemic leadership roles. Those who fully understand the nature and inner workings of their companies will excel. It’s a little like a government focusing on domestic rather than foreign policy. In other words, focusing on internal systems and processes will likely bear the best results.

Leaders who make this switch will build companies with strong cores. Should anything like a global pandemic happen again, those companies will be prepared. Industry leaders who fail to learn from the lessons of this one may already be gone.

Leaders Are Recognizing That Kindness Matters

Never has the world been more in need of kindness than at this moment. Leading with kindness in the wake of the pandemic is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. Even the toughest leaders must show a more human side or risk failure.

The stress faced by employees whose work-life balance has been eroded is unprecedented. There is no equilibrium between professional and personal lives. The tension between the two calls for leaders to try a little kindness.

A recent Gallup poll asked employees if they believed their employer cared about their overall well-being. Only 45% of respondents checked “strongly agree” to the subject. If leaders are counting on employee performance to make their company successful, they must improve that number markedly.

Improving employees’ sense of well-being won’t be easy for leaders confronted with a perpetual state of crisis. The good news is that kindness really takes little effort, but a little of it goes a very long way. Furthermore, leading by example rather than words will cause kindness to ripple throughout the organization.

Leaders who can recognize the signs of emotional distress and burnout in themselves should also recognize it in their employees. Leading with empathy will increase comfort, trust, and loyalty among your team. That’s where battles are fought and won in business and in life.

Leaders Are Building Community

Industries are communities comprising everyone who has a relationship with them. This includes everyone from employees and investors to vendors, customers, and even social media followers. A leader’s goal is to nurture their community, and that can be challenging when the world is becoming increasingly small.

Leaders can no longer pick and choose which sectors of their community they lead and leave the rest to someone else. The community is the sum of its parts, all of which need to be led collectively. That means understanding who’s in the community and opening the lines of communication with all of them.

Leaders who manage to bring everyone into the tent will be effectively communicating a “we’re-all-in-this-together” mentality. That inherent empathy can lift every member, which in turn will rally the entire community. Fail to lift one part, and the tent collapses on everyone.

It has always been true that leaders can’t show fear. However, in the wake of the pandemic, they must show compassion, resilience, confidence, and strength in the face of uncertainty.

Leaders who can speak to the truth, whether that truth is positive or negative, will build trust. That trust is the key to tearing down walls, dispelling feelings of isolation, and creating more room in the tent.