Leadership following the pandemic: How to build a foundation for growth

By Josh Smith

As the world learns to adjust to new ways of interacting and working through the COVID19 crisis we turn to leaders, seeking answers, guidance, and advice on how to advance past this pandemic.

The positive strategy for leadership following the pandemic will set the tone for how organisations will evolve. To ensure businesses thrive during and after the crisis, leaders need to invest in their employees. In 2020, employees seek more than just financial reward. Their preferred currency of choice comes in the form of purpose, wellbeing, and relationships.


In such uncertain times, leading with a greater purpose guided by principles and values can provide clear direction and give meaning and inspiration to everyday actions. By aligning goals to the organisation’s mission and values, employee engagement is higher and profits increase. Leaders now need to appeal to employees’ sense of ethical and moral aspirations, creating greater trust based on those common values. That trust can inspire the organisation to be rebuilt stronger, more resilient, and further committed to its purpose.

Organisations need to move away from focusing on just results – that is not to say they are not important – but employees need to come first, then customers.  Southwest Airlines, the leading low-cost flight operator in the United States is a great example of putting employees first. The company’s mission statement is:

“To provide the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride and company spirit”.

That is only achieved through the employee first cultural approach ingrained in the DNA of the business. According to Statista.com, as of 2019 Southwest Airlines has a 16.5% market share, the highest for a low-cost carrier in North America.

By aligning goals and values, leaders will see an increase in employee engagement, improved company reputation and better financial performance (Shahid, A. and Azhar, S.M., 2013).


Great leaders can motivate and engage their followers through a combination of strong communication skills and enablement – creating a safe environment for people to grow and develop. The ability to do these things during a crisis is vital, fostering an ecosystem of optimism, safety, spirit, and well-being is critical.

Leaders need to implement a balanced and flexible work schedule, extend benefits and create new ones, not cut jobs and salaries. Instead provide additional benefits to help employees handle external stressors the current pandemic is triggering. Doing this will enable organisations to develop a culture of trust, positivity, and resilience.

This is when leaders need to be flexible but also responsible for the health and wellbeing of their employees, this includes physical, emotional, and mental. For example, some organisations have provided healthcare cover for individuals on furlough or even those which have been laid off.

Employee satisfaction is directly correlated with organisational performance. The greater the sense of hope and optimism an employee has, the more a company will get from them (Luthans, F. et al., 2007). A study (Seijits and Crim, 2006) from the Journal of Management noted that employees who feel positively about the company’s future are more likely to put in the hard work to create that future. Charismatic leaders who can apply these empathetic practices and raise worker’s spirits will contribute towards a healthier workforce. This will be rewarded with greater trust that leadership has employees’ best interests in mind.

Graph highlighting the positive correlation between employee satisfaction and organisational performance


High quality relationships are based on empathy and authenticity. Authentic leadership induces a more positive response from followers (Tonkin, T.H., 2013), by empowering people through staying true to their principles and values. Authentic leaders create stronger bonds with people and provide alternative perspectives for understanding the crisis.

In 2005, Gardner and colleagues created the Authentic Leadership Questionnaire (ALQ) to identify authentic leaders and to work on developing authentic leadership. Take the test and find out how authentic your leadership style is.

To help your employees successfully navigate the current uncertainty and come out of the COVID19 predicament stronger, leaders need to build supportive networks based on empathetic and authentic relationships. By prioritising this form of relationship, organisations will grow stronger through a more positive culture.

To ensure that the new culture is maintained after the current situation has past, it is important leaders prevent old rivalries and bureaucracy getting in the way.  Beyond the workplace people are seeking to make sense of this disruption and new reality; leaders can help workers on this journey by showing authenticity, compassion, and vulnerability on their own uncertainty.

Authentic leadership does have drawbacks, it works best when the followers like and agree with the individual, as it makes the display of leadership more palatable, when compared with displays from leaders we dislike or disagree with. In this instance it can be said audiences want to see authentic inauthenticity, and not hear uncomfortable truths (Clarke et al, 2013).


If leaders focus their actions on these areas, support their people and enable them to thrive, organisations will flourish. By concentrating on these beliefs’ leaders will successfully navigate the business through this unpredictable time. These businesses will emerge stronger with a better culture, more engaged, happier workforce and a company geared for growth in the long term. Doing so will develop broader skill sets, more empathy, better relationships, and a greater resilience for future challenges.

If you would like help finding the right leaders to grow your business through this difficult time, please get in contact today.


Avolio, B.J. and Gardner, W.L., 2005. Authentic leadership development: Getting to the root of positive forms of leadership. The leadership quarterly, 16(3), pp.315-338.

Clarke, C., Kelliher, C. and Schedlitzki, D. (2013) ‘Labouring under false pretences? The emotional labour of authentic leadership’, in Ladkin, D. and Spiller, C. (eds.) Authentic leadership: clashes, convergences and coalescences. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, pp. 75–92

Luthans, F., Avolio, B.J., Avey, J.B. and Norman, S.M., 2007. Positive psychological capital: Measurement and relationship with performance and satisfaction. Personnel psychology, 60(3), pp.541-572.

Shahid, A. and Azhar, S.M., 2013. Gaining employee commitment: Linking to organizational effectiveness. Journal of Management Research, 5(1), p.250.

Tonkin, T.H., 2013. Authentic versus transformational leadership: Assessing their effectiveness on organizational citizenship behavior of followers. International Journal of Business and Public Administration, 10(1), pp.40-61.

Written by Josh Smith,  Head of Leadership Assessment and Executive Search at Gibson Watts.

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