Rise of the pandemic leader: How CEOs changed in 2021

Connecting people to purpose leads to 56% less burnout

Rise of the pandemic leader: How CEOs changed in 2021

As Canada begins to emerge from the pandemic, a new style of leadership has arisen. Gone are the days of the archetypal CEO, one detached from employee experience, focused only on profit and loss. The pandemic forced leaders to think and act differently – ushering in a new age of empathetic and compassionate leadership.

HRD spoke to Meghan Stettler, director of the O.C Tanner Institute, who revealed how the events of the past year led to a CEO overhaul.

“The pandemic pulled back the curtain on organizations’ strengths and weaknesses, and for better or worse, the same held true for leaders,” Stettler told HRD. “Recently, the O.C. Tanner Institute introduced this concept of modern leaders who reject the traditional leadership model of directing, evaluating, and gatekeeping information, and instead, focus their efforts on coaching, developing, and empowering their people to do great work.

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“We found that this year, successful leaders recognized the need to connect with their people regularly to better understand their personal circumstances and concerns. And rather than reverting to just doing the work themselves, they led with empathy and spent more time coaching and making sure their people had access to the tools, information, and support they needed to do their jobs with wellbeing top of mind. This highlighted the necessity of all leaders to intentionally make the transition from doers to influencers, and those who understand the value of providing autonomy alongside empathy and support will get the best results moving forward.”

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Empathy isn’t traditionally a term you’d associate with the C-suite. However, as Stettler told HRD, throughout the pandemic compassion was continually listed as one of the most important leadership traits. O.C Tanner’s research found that when leaders connect their people to their purpose, employees are 747% more likely to be highly engaged and 49% less likely to burn out.

“Unfortunately, however, employees reported that many of their leaders fell into old habits of trying to control the work, rather than mentoring their people through new opportunities; putting their people on the defensive by continually evaluating their every digital or frontline move, rather than developing them to work autonomously with ownership; and inhibiting progress by withholding information rather than trusting teams with transparency,” added Stettler.

“We have a long way to go to regain what was lost in the crisis, but as in all difficult times, this is an opportunity to re-evaluate policies, priorities, and practices to bring about the best culture and experiential outcomes for employees moving forward.  In fact, modern leadership has a significant impact on all generations, and the odds of having a better employee experience increases by 19x with Gen Z, 15x with Millennials, and 30x with Baby Boomers. The multigenerational workforce of today’s marketplace will just continue to expand and widen, so understanding how to lead all ages continues to be of paramount importance in tackling the challenges and opportunities of the future.”

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