Leadership skills under the spotlight thanks to COVID-19

There are three key traits according to this new survey

Leadership skills under the spotlight thanks to COVID-19

In times of crisis, leadership skills are thrust under the spotlight. And there has been no crisis quite like the one business heads found themselves in just over a year ago when the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe.

Facing a rapidly changing environment, leaders who thrived were those who led with empathy, clarity and a sense of calm – even in the midst of the lockdown. Everyone’s preference will differ, but now, a new analysis of leadership traits by media intelligence company Isentia has pinpointed the key characteristics of what a good leader looked like during the pandemic.

The study analysed media narratives, survey data and case studies across ANZ to examine how the expectations of leadership figures has changed. The research also looked at the coverage of two key leading figures who have become a staple in their respective country’s news coverage – Victorian premier Dan Andrews and NZ Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. The results of the study titled Leading Through Change highlight the evolving nature of leadership, providing invaluable insight for business heads and managers to take into the future.

Read more: Leadership skills of the future

Of the respondents in New Zealand, 44% said leadership had changed as a result of COVID-19 and through the pandemic, the most important leadership traits were resilience (90%), follow through (75%) and empathy (70%).

Ngaire Crawford, Insights Director at Isentia, told HRD that the demanding circumstances of 2020 presented a unique opportunity in leadership research.

“We can see an interesting shift in how governments and organisations communicate, and a clear expectation from the public that they will be communicated to effectively,” she said. “What we can also see is a risk when organisations lose their authenticity when communicating, and potentially over use methods such as press conferences to appear transparent.”

When it comes to political leaders, people in New Zealand want them to be three things: Honest, competent and representative. But for leaders in the workplace, the top traits are slightly different. Respondents in NZ identified the key characteristics for that group as being competent, leading by example and being a good communicator.

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For HR, the study highlights what many already know – a good leader can make the difference between an organisation thriving through times of change or flailing in the uncertainty. Scaling the capability of a business leaders will continue to be a key role for HR both now and in the future. Improving soft skills like communication, empathy and vulnerability are all on the priority list, enabling leaders to command confidence through showing, rather than telling.

In future, it’s likely that technology will play an even greater role in the workplace, automating some of the current roles of people leaders. But the key leadership traits identified by Isentia are an example of the characteristics machines simply cannot replicate. For HR leaders hoping to identify and capitalise on the skills of the future, they’re a great place to start.

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