In spite of the numerous difficulties facing organizations and individuals, the COVID-19 pandemic has created opportunities in the workplace, especially for the people leading a remote workforce.

Remote work has provided a unique opportunity and leveled the playing field for budding leaders. Stars of the physical office have taken a backseat to people who are more comfortable behind a screen. Those individuals, who actually remove roadblocks and facilitate work for senior managers, are emerging as successful leaders in their own right.

There’s No Such Thing as Over-communication

These leaders know that communication is key to success and understand that a new skill set is required to engage workers virtually. In order to engage employees in a remote environment, leaders need to be flexible and have effective communication (written, oral, video) skills, as well as strong social and emotional intelligence. Communication needs to be clear, consistent and delivered through multiple channels. And, now more than ever, leaders need to be active listeners.

Good Leaders Actively Listen

Employees want to be heard and included in decision-making when possible. Effective leaders pay attention and acknowledge what employees are saying and what they need. They may not necessarily agree, but they are engaged, ask clarifying questions and reflect on what their employees are saying by paraphrasing and summarizing in order to understand them.

Effective leaders listen and respond appropriately, set clear expectations, establish trust, focus on goals rather than tasks or activities, schedule team and one-on-one meetings, and facilitate recognition within and across teams. This type of listening and engaging helps develop better relationships and build a culture of trust, especially when managers are unable to see physical cues, such as facial expressions.

In a remote context, the employee/manager relationship is more of a mentor/mentee relationship. Good leaders focus on the development and growth of their direct reports and creating a culture of mutual respect and acceptance. Productivity increases with employee engagement and job satisfaction, ultimately helping teams exceed key performance indicators (KPIs) and build a sense of community.

Modern Leadership Skills for Evolving Organizations

Effective leaders are resilient and able to make effective decisions and resolve conflicts as they arise. Having a capacity for insightful and critical thinking is an important leadership behavior in all business environments, especially for the crop of new leaders who will be helping organizations right themselves as they recover from the impact of the pandemic. Employees expect their leaders to deal effectively with ambiguity and to be fast learners who can pivot as situations change.

As leaders continue to navigate a dynamic environment filled with uncertainty and ambiguity, they must make constant adjustments. A state of perpetual change requires the resiliency born of self-awareness and self-management, hallmarks of emotional intelligence. When leaders understand their own emotions and can recognize and influence the emotions of their team members, they are better able to coach, deliver feedback and facilitate collaboration.

As immunity against COVID-19 looks viable with the launch of successful vaccines, leaders are anticipating new challenges. They know that the workforce is changed, and they need to be empathetic. The workforce will include employees who work on and off site, and companies will need to create a stronger infrastructure to support all workers and consider new inclusive descriptors, such as “distributed” rather than “remote” workers. Distributed implies a purposefulness in organizational structure, as well as a normalcy where everyone has the same access to resources and opportunities — where everyone is connected and contributing regardless of location.

A Bright Future

Effective leaders create a culture of transparency and communicate company goals frequently by leveraging traditional leadership soft skills and taking advantage of emerging digital platforms. Soft skills including communications and strategic thinking are table stakes while embracing change and seeking new ways of conducting business differentiate leaders in this new digital and virtual workplace. Organizations that provide coaching or training to develop technical and functional experts into future leaders will benefit from a critical competitive advantage.

Organizations typically evolve slowly, but the COVID-19 pandemic catapulted organizations forward, shining a bright light on the individuals willing to speak up about their ideas and take calculated risks to manage through a period of chaotic business transformation.

Effective leadership is always important, but never have the stakes felt so high. Leaders need to evolve with the times and adjust their behavior to be effective in the situations they face, yet remain true to themselves. The best leaders do not have a single leadership approach. Rather, they evolve — and sometimes improvise — to fit the situation.

Editor’s note: Don’t miss our infographic on modern leadership development, which shares insights from learning leaders like this one.

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