COVID disrupted nearly every aspect of our lives. It changed how we interacted with others and how we worked. For most, it created a moment of reflection to redefine what we value and who we value.

Smart leaders evolved and rose to the challenge by changing their leadership styles in a variety of ways. Those that did were able to guide their company successfully during exceptionally difficult times.

The lessons they learned are extremely valuable moving forward and should not be forgotten. The next generation of leaders will embrace these profound changes. Here are four of the biggest lessons learned

1. Be Authentic and Transparent

There’s an image that’s been fostered over generations that the boss knows all can never show weakness or vulnerability. Most of us were taught to be friendly — but not friends — with subordinates.

COVID leveled the playing field. Regardless of your position in the company, you were affected by it. COVID exposed the very vulnerabilities leaders aren’t supposed to have.

The leaders that displayed an authentic concern for their teams, got closer than ever to their team members, and were transparent about decisions are the ones that grew. Admitting that you don’t have all the answers and sharing the leadership burden in a transparent way helps you build more meaningful relationships with your colleagues.

2. Put People First

Perhaps the most important lesson learned during the pandemic is that companies need to put people first. Creating a culture that’s based on compassion, flexibility, and equity has become a foundational element for businesses that want to flourish.

Making accommodations for employees’ personal lives, when appropriate, engenders loyalty. An empathetic and human approach to managing people is no longer optional.

3. Communicate a Sense of Purpose

One of the reasons behind the Great Resignation is employees lost a sense of purpose. The pandemic caused them to reflect on what was really important in their lives and they realized their work was not fulfilling.

Teams need a common goal and a sense of purpose to be fully engaged and perform at their peak. When there is alignment between employee and company purpose, employees are more loyal, engaged, and willing to advocate for their companies.

A McKinsey study showed that employees at companies with a sense of purpose are:

  • 2X more likely to stay
  • 3.5X more engaged
  • 2X more willing to advocate

It’s a sense of purpose, of doing something of value for customers and society in general that keeps them coming back and working hard.

4. Embrace New Solutions

During the pandemic, companies and employees did remarkable things. New solutions and innovative ways to do business emerged. Who knew so many businesses could run with all their team members working remotely?

Operating in crisis mode, leaders had to make decisions quickly and often with limited information. For many, unconventional solutions have led to new business practices, efficiencies, or the development of new product offerings.

Another thing leaders learned during the pandemic? You’re sometimes going to make mistakes or have to reverse course quickly. Admit the mistake and make the change. If you’re open and honest about why it’s necessary, it can increase respect, not diminish it.

Redefining Leadership

Moving forward, leaders need to remember these lessons and make them part of their company’s culture to continue to grow. Employee expectations and perceptions of the workplace have changed dramatically. Leaders need to recognize and embrace a new way of managing people.