Re-defining Leadership in the COVID Era:


Since the onset of the COVID crisis, there has been a very lively and rich discussion around what this all means for leadership under the extreme conditions we have been going through. What follows is a very personal contribution, based on my initial training as a social historian and 37 years of experience in the Learning and Development space.

Even with the tremendous advances in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, human beings (and by extension, leaders) will continue to play a critical role in the success of organizations. But this raises a new series of questions: who we recruit, who we promote, who we decide to invest in for L+D spend, how we recognize and reward. There are a few leadership models out there with 6 dimensions and perhaps the TALENT “proto-model” proposed below could make a small contribution to how we can collectively consider updating our pre-existing models on leadership for the COVID Era.

In order to simplify as much as possible my proposed acronym TALENT, I have chosen EMOTION (in fact, I am really trying to focus on the wider notion of Emotional Intelligence). [1] In our new, increasingly complex era, leaders need to be more versatile than ever. The “chameleon model” – that of adapting one’s leadership styles to the specific needs of team members (level of competence, years of experience in the role, level of motivation, motivational “drivers”, personality profile…). Even more, than in the past, leaders need to have their antennae sharply attuned to pick up “weak signals” from both team members and those from their stakeholder eco-systems. With the hybrid model of working, it seems that there are vast differences in what employees are experiencing: from those feeling “liberated” to be able to work from comfortable second homes in idyllic locales to those feeling isolated in inner-city cramped living spaces. There may even be some interesting gender issues here: one study found that “22% of British men find working from home difficult…only 13% of women do” . [2]

There are a lot of tools out there to help leaders and their teams better understand where they are all coming from in terms of personality profiles (DISC Insights, MBTI, Facet5, GENOS…to name but a few). [3] For a relatively small investment and with effective debriefing and facilitation, such tools can have a significant impact on team performance. In light of the dramatic changes to the workplace, it is my view that these will become even more impactful. Such exercises can help leaders become even more “chameleon-like” than ever: by promoting active listening, being more prepared and explicit when needed, emphasizing purpose, and overall serving as true “enablers” to enhance engagement and performance of their team members. One of the great benefits of remote working is that it can give a greater voice to introverts. It is also a great opportunity to make meetings more inclusive by mitigating the nefarious effects of the “dominators”. Of course, this entails that leaders have the emotional intelligence to bring out the best in everyone. If they fail in doing this, leaders risk a growing sense of frustration and even resentment on the part of certain team members. In view of all this, leaders need to be helped in developing their coaching skills. Finally, many change management experts over the years have argued that communicating with empathy has been a key success factor in explaining how organizations have succeeded in their transformations. This is now more than ever the case.

Food for thought:
Everyone is talking about “emotional intelligence”, but what can we actually do to “put it into place”?
How can we be a role model for emotional intelligence?

David Butler

Written by David Butler
Senior Consultant @PeopleSmart

[1] I am very grateful for the advice of fellow consultant Danny Nassif on this ( He also made the great suggestion of looking at Relationship System Intelligence, which focuses on the intelligence of systems as a whole. While leadership is clearly a role, it can be taken on by more than one person. For further reading, please look at:

[2] « Work-life Balance » The Economist, July 18, 2020 pp. 24-25

[3] Facet5 has a very interesting 5th Dimension around Emotionality, exploring for example how different team members feel about significant change.

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