The Post-Covid Leader — How the CEO's Role Has Changed in the Past 3 Years Here are three big shifts that I have noticed leaders have made due to the many lessons learned during the pandemic.
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So much has changed since Covid-19 first hit the U.S. in March 2020 — from how and where we work to what's expected from employers to how we prioritize our values. We have been a witness to the Great Resignation, record-low unemployment and skyrocketing inflation. Over the past three years, the role of the CEO has adapted to the rapidly transforming needs of the workforce and customers.
I've had the privilege of watching new best-in-class leadership practices emerge as a direct result of the immense change brought on by the pandemic. While mission, vision and values remain the central tenants determining every company's North Star, great leaders know they cannot be stagnant in their search for success.
Below are some of the big shifts I've noticed exemplary leaders have made due to the many lessons learned over the past three years:
Mastering the new CEO mindset
With no playbook in hand, the pandemic forced business leaders across the board to give up long-standing beliefs and lean into the moment to make real-time decisions. Great leaders were able to let go of their sense of control and learn how to thrive amid uncertainty and turmoil with a collaborative mindset. Now, as the pandemic lifts, CEOs are finding success by remaining open-minded and nimble.
They listen to customers and employees and also test and iterate to arrive at the best solution. Giving up a fixed mindset has created opportunities to learn, adapt and create something brand new. Many are seeing how offering new flexibility to employees has actually made their companies more productive and competitive. The world of work is continuing to change at a rapid rate. In today's world, it's equally important to anticipate and plan for a variety of possibilities as it is to be ready to pivot on a dime if unexpected circumstances arise.
Making vulnerability and transparency a superpower
Before Covid, many CEOs saw vulnerability as a sign of weakness. During the pandemic, great CEOs learned to embrace open, transparent and honest communication — even when the truth was difficult to share. And it is now well established that there is no weakness in listening to a variety of opinions. Now, hierarchies and command and control structures are being replaced by leaders who really seek to understand what's happening on the front lines of their business by regularly speaking to employees who connect directly to customers. Leaders now listen to and learn from employees at all levels of the business, rather than feeling like they have to arrive at all the answers on their own.
Thinking bigger and anticipating
Now more than ever, top CEOs are actively seeking outside perspectives. When organizations make decisions in a vacuum, groupthink and confirmation bias can set in. Great leaders accept that they often need to get away from the business to work "on the business." The world is more complex than ever. And CEOs are responsible for taking what's happening in the surrounding world, making sense of it and building plans around it. By anticipating the business impact of everything from inflation to supply chain and economic factors, leaders are making better decisions and uncovering new solutions.
Recruiting and retaining the right team
CEOs are still responsible for setting the strategy, culture, organization, results and execution for their company. And Covid reaffirmed just how important it is to hire and retain the right people to execute those plans. When the talent wars picked up during The Great Resignation, it became clear that loyal and engaged employees are an unmatched differentiator during challenging times. These are the individuals who are willing to roll up their sleeves and pitch in to help the organization overcome obstacles.
Without the right people on staff, a company will always be spending resources on attracting and training a new wave of talent instead of focusing on customer experience and the bottom line. Great CEOs have always known their team is most engaged when employees understand how their work connects to the company's purpose. Now, successful CEOs are implementing strategies that cascade down the organization. With a strong team in place, everyone has a voice, from intern to C-suite — which both increases engagement and uncovers alternate ways of thinking.
When the pandemic hit, every leader had to be willing to throw their three-year plan out the door and start from scratch. While the pandemic presented devastating hardships and uncharted challenges, it also allowed us to open our minds to a new wave of leadership. CEOs who were able to embrace the changing tide have created a framework for what works moving forward.
No longer is the CEO acting alone in a closed-door corner office, reporting out plans with little to no feedback. Today's leader is best described as nimble, humble, vulnerable, transparent, inquisitive, collaborative and employee-centric. For CEOs, there has never been a more exciting time than now to make a lasting impact on the future of leadership.