The pandemic has redefined leadership at every level. Meet the new, hybrid leader


At the onset of the pandemic, many couldn’t grasp how much our lives would be upended by COVID-19.

Absent a guidebook, most resorted to freestyling, with varying degrees of effectiveness. Managers eager to master this new work-from-home world were driven to work faster, increase efficiency, and strive for something “better.”

It didn't work.

As workplaces navigated the second year of the pandemic, divisions emerged within management levels, according to Leadership Circle’s Influence of COVID on Leadership report.

Almost half of the upper management surveyed reported feeling disconnected from their direct reports. By contrast, 65% of lower-level managers said that constant disruptions—such as messages and conference calls—were the most challenging issue.

For managers and employees, that breakneck pace wasn’t sustainable. It alienated those struggling to balance the demands of work with the complexities of home life. Teams were stressed and overextended, while leaders felt like Atlas as they shouldered the responsibility of maintaining stability amidst uncertainty.

This pressure manifested itself differently according to leadership rank: Less than half (45%) of lower-level managers kept a positive outlook, compared to 70% of upper-level managers.

The realities of the COVID era have forced everyone, regardless of title, to pause and rethink how they define leadership. Signs of this pandemic-fueled shift surfaced in our report, with business leaders from nearly 1,200 companies around the globe sharing their assessments of what defines capable leadership.

Their responses reflect the emergence of a new leadership style rooted in empathy, intelligence, and integrity: hybrid leadership. These five traits characterize this transformative effect on leadership.


Relatable managers inspire trust. The enigmatic boss with a detached, aloof management style doesn’t fit a remote work environment.

Strong leaders know how to show their humanity. Our findings in 2021 and 2021 reflect this renewed focus on relatability. Let's commit to creating a safe space (virtual or otherwise) where leaders and teams alike feel comfortable expressing concerns, challenges, and personal victories.


Real leaders show up as their real selves. If I’m serious about forging a meaningful connection with my team, I must embrace vulnerability and peel back the layers to reveal my truest self. Whether it’s starting a Zoom team meeting with a funny anecdote or raving about a show you’re binging, those incremental, impactful steps encourage others to follow suit.

Our reports bear this out, with leaders of all levels stressing authenticity more during the COVID era—engendering a culture of trust and deeper collaboration.


Where there is no vision, the people perish. Leaders should always communicate a clear vision for how the work aligns with organizational goals, promoting a strong sense of purpose.

No employee should feel unsure or confused about a company’s growth. The data speaks to the growing significance of this attribute, with vision ranking higher as a leadership quality in 2021 than in 2020.

So don’t be afraid to discuss the company’s profitability or proactive DEI efforts. Establishing a sound vision elevates your leadership cred with those who matter most.


Demonstrating that you care makes a difference. We found that one of the leaders’ go-to strengths during COVID was expressing curiosity and genuine interest in employees’ creative contributions.

After all, an engaged leader ensures employees feel seen and heard—and that’s critical when so many employees feel isolated by remote work. There’s no one-way communication; instead, ask for active participation and feedback. Show that you’re thoroughly invested in different perspectives and value input.


If you want others to join the battle, you must lead the charge. In our survey, keeping staff motivated ranked high among the challenges leaders face managing through COVID.

Addressing the issue means those in positions of power must lead by example, diving right into the foxhole with their teams—and inspiring their employees to follow suit.

I once debriefed a senior pharmaceutical executive, whose mission to eradicate breast cancer within 20 years in an impoverished, third-world country, drove his work.

Asked if he felt discouraged by the circumstances, he responded that the complexity of the challenge thoroughly energized him–and that he sought to inspire that same spirit in his team. This “make lemons out of lemonade” motivational view of leadership begins with you and radiates throughout your company.

When it comes to ways in which we approach working, the pandemic has rendered old, constrictive modes of thinking, doing, and communicating obsolete. These five traits represent the best of hybrid leadership for those committed to action-driven, purposeful leadership, through the pandemic and beyond.

Betsy Leatherman is the global president of consulting services at Leadership Circle.

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