How to Create a Thriving Leadership Team during a Pandemic

Action-oriented behaviors have become increasingly important as leaders adjust to managing and motivating their teams in a remote workplace.

In May this year, I was asked to write a response to an HR Magazine article on open-door leadership. At the time the lockdown from COVID-19 was still relatively new and our business, like all others, were still in the throes of contemplating how to work remotely. The article was published last month and seeing what I wrote allowed me to reflect on the last three months and how leadership behaviors have changed over this period.

My original stance was that an “open-door” policy is a passive approach to leadership. It risks distracting and overwhelming leaders and creates a dependency culture in their team.

Does this still apply? Absolutely, in fact, I feel more so. It is even more important to proactively give individuals and teams the space to talk, collaborate, and share experiences. This is specifically a vital form of structure and support in the absence of being physically around one another.

Now that we are six months into our pandemic world, it is interesting to see new research on how organizational norms may be changing. Recently, Purvanova and her team, in the Journal of Business and Psychology, analyzed and found that leaders emerge from groups when they demonstrate leadership through their task-based behaviors, rather than their personal traits.

In traditional, physical settings, individuals who display more confidence, extraversion, and cognitive ability are often sought out for leadership roles. However, the above study identifies that in a remote environment these characteristics are less important, and it is the “action” and “monitoring” behaviors (how well they plan, provide support to colleagues, and achieve goals) that are more likely to predict leadership potential.

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Intuitively this makes sense. Personal charisma is less impactful when viewed through a screen and with fewer personal interactions with others. The quality of our work gains greater significance in giving confidence to others in our ability. Remote working may be stripping away the corporate posturing and may allow us to more clearly recognize an individual’s actual contribution.

According to Purvanova, this could have important implications for organizations, who can adjust better to remote working by:

  1. Helping leaders to understand the changes. Perceptions of their quality as leaders may have changed and could be causing frustrations to those struggling to have the impact they are used to.
  2. Selecting leaders for what they can do. Complementing assessments of personality and ability traits with objective assessments of their action, monitoring, and coordination of individual tasks is likely to give a more accurate picture of their remote leadership potential.
  3. Training leaders to accentuate different traits and behaviors in different environments. Providing development of new skills to help them demonstrate productivity.

While the face of the workplace has changed significantly — at least it is not yet beyond all recognition. Active management behaviors such as planning, communicating, and monitoring are as important if not more so than before. However, leaders who rely on more passive attributes and behaviors may find it more difficult to adjust. Organizations should be considering their capability through this lens and providing appropriate support to their existing and potential leadership populations.




Ed Rivlin

Ed is a chartered occupational psychologist and leads a team of occupational psychologists and talent assessment consultants in the UK. He has worked in many different business sectors for a range of large, global clients through to SMEs using behavioral insight and validated scientific approaches to improve their people decisions and business outcomes.

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