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Are COVID-Fueled Leadership Trends Here to Stay?

Updated Jul 13, 2023

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To be a successful leader in today’s post-pandemic workplace, you need to adapt to the workforce trends that have emerged over the past few years. Employees have different needs and expectations than they did before COVID-19 hit, requiring leaders to adapt to a new work dynamic. To help you become an effective leader in today’s environment, we consulted with industry experts to identify some of the most significant ways leadership has changed since the pandemic. Keep reading to find out the potential challenges you may have to overcome, as well as the skills you’ll need to succeed.

How leadership has changed since the pandemic

You may be familiar with the three C’s of leadership: character, competence and communication. These are attributes every leader must have. While this remains true, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the scope of the workplace in a way that is redefining leadership. Here are some of the most significant changes today.

Remote work and virtual leadership

Gone are the days when leading and learning occurred only in the office. The world quickly went remote when the pandemic erupted in 2020, and it disrupted not only the way people work but also how they think about work — even years later. While many full-time employees have gone back to the office in 2023 (59 percent), a WFH Research survey found that other workers are still remote (13 percent) or in a hybrid arrangement (28 percent).

This shift has forced leaders to reassess employee needs and learn how to lead both virtually and in person. Leading a remote team can bring challenges in communication, scheduling, collaboration and company culture. Hybrid leadership can be even more challenging as you attempt to get in-office and remote employees on the same page — not to mention navigate a situation prone to proximity bias or the headaches of geodiversity.

Employee well-being

Many employees used to view being overworked and burned out as a badge of honor. If an employee worked early mornings and late nights, they were seen as dedicated to their career and company. However, the pandemic permanently shifted many people’s priorities and views of their personal and professional lives, with many workers placing a greater importance on their mental well-being.

This change has influenced not only what types of employee benefits workers are receiving but also how leaders must support their team members day to day.  

“Helping employees navigate burnout, find purpose in their work and create an environment of work-life balance are becoming key priorities for leaders,” Laurie Cure, CEO of business consulting firm Innovative Connections, told

Did You Know?Did you know

Global worker stress remains at a historic high. In Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report, 44 percent of employees said they had experienced “a lot of stress” the previous day. Employers can help manage this stress by supporting their workers.

Flexibility and adaptability

Two of the most important qualities that were illuminated during the pandemic were flexibility and adaptability. When the world transformed overnight, business leaders and teams were forced to change the way they worked, including things like their workplace environment (office versus home), communication styles (in person versus online), new technology (video conferencing and other collaboration tech), customer connections and more. These transitions led many leaders to understand the true importance of having an agile team.

Instead of sticking to the status quo, successful leadership involves embracing flexibility and adaptability in the workplace, which, in turn, spurs creativity, innovation and growth. If new ideas fail, leaders should use them as learning opportunities.

“The best leaders are maniacal about paying attention to what’s working or not,” said Chuck Wachendorfer, co-author of Don’t Wait for Someone Else to Fix It (Wiley, 2023) and president of distribution at leadership consulting firm Think2perform. “They have developed an intense curiosity about those parts of the business that are not working and reward people for trying new things to fix them.”

Thoughtful communication

Effective communication has always been a critical skill for leaders to master. However, since the pandemic, there’s been a change in how leaders are communicating with their subordinates. They must not only choose the right forms of communication (in person, video conference, email, instant message, team meeting, company meeting, one-on-one) but also be thoughtful about the message they are sending. [Read related article: Wake-Up Call: How You’re Driving Employees Away]

“Companies recognize how important their communication is to employees and are more thoughtful about their message,” said John Philbin, founder and partner of Spectacular at Work, a management consulting, executive coaching and leadership development organization. “Smart companies have shifted their message to reflect the tone, ‘We’re in this together,’ rather than simply, ‘We are informing you.'”

The skills you need to be an effective leader today

Since the pandemic, there has been a greater emphasis on the employee experience. Leaders are expected to be “human experts” more than “strategy experts.”

“Leaders will need to elevate their competency of emotional intelligence, building trust, listening, effective communication and navigating conflict,” Cure said.

To be an effective leader today, you must hone the following skills:

Flexibility and agility

Leaders must be flexible in their approach to work and open to change. As workforce trends and employee expectations evolve, a successful leader can shepherd their team through the changes.

“Agile leaders can pivot and change direction quickly,” Cure said. “This is necessary in an unpredictable work environment.”

As innovation and agility are essential to a company’s success, leaders also must be flexible in giving employees the autonomy to try new things.


The pandemic highlighted the importance of empathy in leaders. Employees have faced a great deal of stress and anxiety in recent years, and leaders must understand and support workers’ needs.

“Really wanting your employees to thrive and succeed is important and creates value in a market where these highly skilled people have multiple options,” Philbin said. “Employees can tell if their leaders really care, even when senior executives have to make difficult decisions.”

Having empathy for your workers also means being more open to feedback and creating a more inclusive workplace.

Talent management

Knowing how to develop talent is a valuable skill in today’s workforce. Successful leaders take the time to understand employees’ goals and lay out the groundwork to help each team member achieve their objectives. If an employee is stuck or underperforming, a good leader will work to understand the best ways to support them.

“The roadblocks or barriers [to employee success] could be a lack of understanding, training or confidence when trying something new,” Wachendorfer said. “When someone isn’t performing, effective leaders take the time to understand why and help people work through it.”

TipBottom line

Focusing on employee development is one important way to help your business succeed. Learn why growing your employees is the key to growing your business.

Leadership challenges in a post-pandemic work environment

While some leaders have taken these pandemic-sparked workplace changes in stride, others have had a hard time adapting to evolving workforce trends and employee demands. For example, successfully leading a remote or hybrid workforce can be tough for many managers. Leaders must know how to effectively support each type of worker, regardless of where they are located.

Leaders are also switching their focus from employee hours to employee value, which can be an adjustment for some. It may not be about how many hours team members work but what they accomplish and add to the company in that time.

“Leaders have to build trust, provide support and be clear about defining success so that people know what is expected of them and can be counted on to deliver results,” Wachendorfer said.

Some leaders have also found it challenging to adjust to the way employees are redefining what work means to them. [Learn how to prepare for a Gen Z workplace.]

“Senior leaders have often made work a central priority and made significant sacrifices for their career,” Philbin said. “There is currently a broad movement to rebalance how work fits into life, particularly among younger professionals who are early off in their careers. … This is creating some frustration among some leaders, and a willingness to change among others.”

According to Cure, overcoming these leadership challenges requires “unlearning” many of the behaviors that made leaders successful up to this point.

“Innovative leaders challenge how they view productivity, time management and relationship building,” she said. “Executive and professional leadership coaching is an increasingly popular strategy to assist leaders in upskilling their own leadership.”

Skye Schooley
Staff Writer at
Skye Schooley is a human resources writer at and Business News Daily, where she has researched and written more than 300 articles on HR-focused topics including human resources operations, management leadership, and HR technology. In addition to researching and analyzing products and services that help business owners run a smoother human resources department, such as HR software, PEOs, HROs, employee monitoring software and time and attendance systems, Skye investigates and writes on topics aimed at building better professional culture, like protecting employee privacy, managing human capital, improving communication, and fostering workplace diversity and culture.
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