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What makes a good leader at work? The coronavirus pandemic may have changed our answer

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Lauren Geall
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According to a new study, the coronavirus pandemic has changed our idea of what makes a successful leader in the workplace – here’s why that could be good news for all of us.

If I asked you to draw up a list of leadership traits, what would you include?

Traditionally, you might consider traits associated with strong, outspoken individuals – confidence, intelligence, determination, decisiveness. For a long time, our idea of what makes a ‘good leader’ has been skewed towards a certain type of person, a stereotype which has tended to leave those who don’t fit that mold behind.

The coronavirus pandemic, however, has sparked a surprising, long-awaited shift. If you hadn’t noticed, the world of work has changed – a lot. Gone are the days when the words ‘working from home’ were a corporate taboo and flexible working was a far-off dream: nowadays, our focus is shifting towards a working world where honesty, understanding and humanity are front and centre. 

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And with this change has come a shift in the kind of leader we’re looking for in the workplace. According to a new survey from coaching platform theMakings, 41% of British workers now believe one of the most valuable traits in a potential leader is someone who is supportive, followed by someone who is empathetic (26%) and trusting (23%). In short, we’re after leaders who are willing to bring more humanity to the workplace.

“The ideal leader we want is changing because fundamentally what we think of as important has changed,” explains Rebecca Morley, leadership coach at theMakings. “Many of the things we’ve always wanted to be able to focus on have moved collectively front and centre as we deal with this pandemic. We’ve effectively been forced to reprioritise things such as health and wellbeing, family and home/office balance and this is proving that some of the old paradigms about what’s possible are wrong.”

A woman working from home
“Many of the things we’ve always wanted to be able to focus on have moved collectively front and centre as we deal with this pandemic.”

For Morley, this shift within the working world has also been reflected in wider society, which in turn has forced us to reimagine the values we bring to our careers. 

“Thinking more widely, the pandemic has also challenged us to be more compassionate, more empathetic and kinder as a society,” she says. “With this in mind, we’re all looking through a different lens at the different elements of our lives and the lives of those around us - including the people we work with and for. It’s amazing how quickly our perception can change once we start to look at things from a different angle and I’m seeing this more and more. People want to work for leaders whose behaviour aligns with their values.”

While this may not seem like that big of a change, this shift towards celebrating leadership styles that promote understanding and connection could lead the way for people who may not have previously considered themselves leader-material to take on bigger and better roles – something which, according to Morley, could pave the way for a different kind of workplace in the future.

“Ultimately, supportive leaders create loyal teams,” she points out. “Empathy helps direct the right people to the right roles. Trust fosters empowered individuals. The collective result? More diversity and innovation in thought. A greater sense of individual fulfilment, increased productivity and the ability to accomplish greater things that move society forward.”

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With this in mind, the time may have come for those people who haven’t thought of themselves as leaders to stand up and take charge – especially as we begin to think about the working world we want to see post-pandemic.

Not only does our changing idea of a ‘good leader’ mean more opportunities for those who don’t possess the ‘traditional’ traits we’ve always valued, it also gives us an opportunity to create a workplace which puts humanity front and centre – and what could be better than that? 

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.