Leadership Lessons from COVID 19 and How Brands Can Activate Them


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    Leadership During the Pandemic: Guest Post by Rachel Dreyfus

    This is a guest post by Rachel Dreyfus, President, Dreyfus Advisors, who researched leadership and organizational culture during the pandemic.

    How has Covid19 influenced leadership over the past three months? Research results show leaders are making changes yielding positive outcomes. Bravo to these senior leaders, a group smart and capable of making big changes!  Yet, those at the helm have only just begun to formally capture these positive outcomes and ensure they carry forward. How will leaders guarantee these better, more-efficient work habits will continue once the pandemic is controlled?

    We were inspired to collaborate on a leadership study with Marijo Bos, Facilitator and C-suite Thought-partner, President of Bos Advisors. after she conducted a dozen qualitative conversations with her clients about their leadership shifts; conversations which uncovered themes that piqued our curiosity about how extensive these shifts would be. We also wondered whether leaders had put formal practices in place to maintain the positive outcomes.

    We surveyed 75 global senior leaders at the end of May 2020 from our own client base, with a geographic skew toward USA and Europe, and industry skew toward technology and media.

    Most Positive Outcomes from Phase 1 of the Pandemic:

    1. Communications have become more frequent, inclusive of more levels and more compassionate, i.e., “human-centric”
    2. Teamwork has improved, despite the transition to the virtual work environment (and despite suspicion by some about accountability)
    3. Leaders have put aside distractions, freeing them up to do the most important things and correct to a lean operation
    4. Leaders have just begun to formally reflect and capture these positive outcomes

    leadership lessons graph

    Detailed findings:

    More than 8 in 10 agree with both, “Through the early stages…I urged my team to strengthen relationships across the business” and  “I am now more deliberate in building an optimistic outlook for my team.”

    Communication shifts were a theme throughout the results and indicate that better teamwork is possible with a shift in communications style and inclusion. Leaders were having more personal and informal inquiries with team members, with a focus on emotional well-being, beyond the work itself.  They were developing deeper relationships by deliberately starting meetings with a personal check-in, including more levels of people and people who are remote geographically. A sense of confidence was projected – if we can succeed through crisis, anything is possible.

    Nearly eight in ten agree (yet just 27% “strongly” agree), “Observing my direct report through Covid-19 I’m now able to identify the high-potential future leaders on my team.”

    Individuals’ abilities have become more clear under stress. Leaders can observe how the team’s high-performers compared to others. Leaders have heightened awareness of rising stars, to invest and develop them.

    covid19 leadership and team lessons

    When asked whether “It’s now imperative to cultivate a stronger explicit purpose connecting our business to our people,” we got our top scoring “strongly agree” response of 56%.

    This resounding response drove to the heart of “The Why” businesses exist. It addressed how focus of teamwork has improved, despite the shift to remote work, which so many companies had previously viewed with suspicion.

    Leaders are focusing on objectives and outcomes over features and products. Their teams are pulling together and showing agility, focusing on crucial goals and leaving distractions behind. This shift to renewed purpose is mentioned frequently by leaders as a reason for improved productivity for teams.

    Almost unanimously, leaders intend to continue remote work in some shape and form. They have discovered everyone has the ability to stay connected, pull together and accomplish team goals in this work environment, although a couple have noted the inevitable (and important) return of face-to-face meetings. However, new virtual habits have formed. For example:

    • Living a life of constant travel as a “road warrior,” once considered essential, has proven optional — and may remain that way for the foreseeable future
    • Environmental benefits to the planet have been acknowledged and appreciated
    • Time savings and productivity boosts from ditching the traditional commute have been celebrated
    • Leaders get to see and know their teammates on a more personal level as pets and kids stroll through the background

    Nearly nine in ten senior leaders (88%) in our study agree that they “have identified smarter, more creative work protocols that will remain in place.

    What’s remarkable is the speed with which leaders were able to challenge established assumptions and make these changes. “Accelerating initiatives we had tried to put in place for years…they are now done in weeks” said one respondent.  Leadership adapted and leveraged new ways of working to get things done. Tech tools were a key part of this, of course, and mentioned by the most leaders. Yet, remote work actually accelerated teamwork by providing flexibility and autonomy, which took the fear out of decision-making and resulted in stronger team performance.

    Our research indicated just two in ten senior leaders “strongly agree” they are “having reflective dialogues and debriefs with team members to identify developing skills and behaviors.”

    Now is the time for leaders to create formal practices for teams to intentionally (and safely) share from the “head and heart.” These communications shifts during the pandemic have deepened relationships on teams and led to improved productivity and stronger sense of purpose. Let’s not lose the agility that’s been discovered. Let’s keep the momentum.

    We conclude with five tips to activate the learnings:

    Rachel Dreyfus is an Accenture-trained market research advisor solving strategic challenges through consumer research. She founded Dreyfus Advisors in 2013 and guides her clients’ marketing strategies, customer experience design and new product development across industries experiencing digital disruption. She can be reached at rachel@dreyfusadvisorsllc.com. See more examples of her work at https://www.dreyfusadvisors.com/

    The Petrova Experience is a boutique customer experience consulting firm based in Brooklyn, New York, and welcomes guest posts from thought leaders like Rachel Dreyfus, that help to bring additional insights to our community.

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