It is no question that 2020 was a tumultuous year and will be etched forever in the history books of mankind. The novel coronavirus slammed the brakes on exponential growth and digitalization. A moment when we were forced to question our habits and routines. A reality when human isolation became the new norm, humans evolved to be interdependent, not self-sufficient and the DNA of our workplace ecosystem changed. While COVID-19 crisis has expedited this transformation beyond imagination, there are additional factors which are accelerating this metamorphosis (digitization, artificial intelligence, mobile apps). All these proved us that the world is a smaller place –and organizations are indeed more transparent.

In this new world, organizations had to learn how to effectively communicate to cascade information into teams and individuals, even when they did not have all the answers yet, away from more traditional and linear communication methods, and neither with a “need to know” basis nor with a “top-down” approach. This global crisis pushed us into inventing new forms of spherical rapid communication and collaboration.

On top of that, the new era revealed that people are not just flesh and bones, a pair of arms and a sound mind but a “holistic human being” along with personal needs, glorifying its physical and mental well-being. As a result, our employees’ work persona is just one part of their broader life experience, embedded deeply within the community and the society. Power has shifted, from organizations to people, from profit to purpose and mutual prosperity, and as an apocalypses ..from “me” to “us”.

But how leaders have responded to this crisis? 

Having that in mind, during this period, I was intrigued to observe how leaders across the world communicated information regarding COVID-19. Which ones were “Certified Fresh”, “Fresh” and “Rotten Tomatoes”, in terms of leadership communication?

If this pandemic experience has taught us anything, it’s that leadership matters and it may matter now more than ever and decisively put it to the test. What is apparent is that leaders are now facing a unique set of challenges as they navigate from unchartered territories towards a new normal. Given that context, there are new “formidable powers” for leaders to develop to lead effectively and blow-up engagement, spread happiness, and boost performance.

As Janice Marturano, founder of the Institute for Mindful Leadership and author of Finding the Space to Lead, says, “Leaders need to respond by reframing their approach towards employees, focusing on the individual as a whole”. Keren Tsuk, Phd, in her book, ‘Mindfully Wise Leadership’, delves deeply in the qualities of the mindful leader. This is the one that is compassionate, authentic, strives to communicate authentically and directly with people and  shows more humanity and vulnerability.  This is the leader that has empathy, “that key factor that makes us start making lemonade, when life gave us lemons, instead of wasting ourselves in bitterness”.

"If this pandemic experience has taught us anything, it’s that leadership matters and it may matter now more than ever and decisively put it to the test"

Empathetic Leadership is not something new and is fundamentally constructed from connections with neurology. Brain research shows that mood and actions of leaders have a direct impact on their subordinates and cast a new light on the power that the leader has to inspire and stimulate passion and enthusiasm, motivation and dedication.  In these turbulent times, the mindful leader’s approach to individual and team cross-boundary interactions becomes vital as it cultivates a sense of psychological safety, a sense of belonging and loyalty.

This is the moment where the mindful leader is going to express not only with honesty but with truthful candor and without ambiguity. “Truth hurts but matters” and this pandemic harshly forced us to announce, “even death”.  What we learned is that telling the truth, acknowledging the phobias and agonies in the minds of people, and using data to support our words, helped us to get points in the trust barometer. The COVID-19 crisis brought to light the virtue of candid communication and truth.

Admittedly, these aren’t the only traits that matter for leaders after this pandemic, but these are the critical ones. Many of these are traditionally viewed as tertiary, or even “luxurious” qualities, but in this unprecedented time, they will become absolutely integral for leaders to lead organizations through a time of inconvenient uncertainty and collective trauma. For leaders who aren’t naturally empathetic, they should surround themselves with others who can help fill that gap.  On top of that, all should ponder with skepticism that “this type of leadership is not required only at the top of the organization pyramid but at every level of human interaction” and how to instill this in everyone.  Leaders cannot succeed unless all want it to. “It takes two to tango”.

This is not the first crisis in history, nor will it be the last.  As Edmund Burke quoted, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” The future of the workplace isn’t coming; it’s already here. Organizations faced, surpassed, and now live with a fragile psyche after this pandemic. What could we do after that? Water our plants, systematically.  Grass will not grow faster by pulling it. This is the time for leaders to build environments where the grass can grow, with water, lots of light, sunshine, and genuine care.