Evolving Leadership Strategies for Challenging Times

The ongoing pandemic has brought about many changes in our work habits, our environments, and our overall well-being, all of which have resulted in the need to develop new skills and strategies for effective team leadership.

In a recent article for MIT’s Sloan Review, Robert Hooijberg and Michael Watkins write that “COVID-19 is accelerating a shift to hybrid work models, which requires a fundamental change in the skills team leaders need to succeed.”

Work Mode

These new strategies can take the form of more frequent check-ins with your team, both one-on-one and in a group. You may, for example, want to schedule time for informal chats at the beginning or end of your meetings to give colleagues a chance to catch up. But, you may also want to make more formal changes to your leadership style, by adopting what Hooijberg and Watkins call a multimodal approach.

Specifically, leaders need to learn how to operate across two distinct modes, which they define as:

  • Virtual coordination mode—This means establishing goals, monitoring progress, driving information sharing, and sustaining connections among colleagues working remotely. For example, tasks that involve working interdependently, such as reporting, simple decision-making, and drafting documents can easily be done virtually.
  • Face-to-face collaboration mode—This involves the work of fostering deep learning, innovation, acculturation, and dedication. For example, Hooijberg and Watkins write, team efforts to achieve breakthrough innovation, solve complex problems, and manage conflicts are performed more effectively in person. 


Within these modes, Hooijberg and Watkins also identify four specific roles for leaders to consider as they adapt their management techniques:

  • Conductor—Ensures team members work together well
  • Catalyst—Stimulates collaboration and innovation
  • Coach—Helps individual team members achieve peak performance
  • Champion—Advocates externally for the team

To be effective in these roles, leaders must also foster meaningful connections and build trust—both internally and externally to the team. 

“Many companies did not embrace remote work before the pandemic because they lacked trust in their employees to be productive at home,” they say. “At the same time, there were concerns about managers’ ability to monitor performance. However, building and sustaining trust is essential to multimodal leadership, especially when the team is operating virtually.”

Reserve Forces

Equally important to building trust is cultivating resilience, says Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg in Harvard Business Review. The mental and physical exhaustion brought on by the long arc of the pandemic can wear down your team’s motivation and take many forms, such as pandemic fatigue, mental fog, and work/life imbalance, she says, and cultivating resilience to these challenges within your team calls for yet a different leadership strategy.

Tapping into your team’s reserve of resilience involves three key steps, as defined by Wedell-Wedellsborg: 

  • Understanding the difference between urgency and importance—This step involves identifying what action needs to be taken now and moving ahead. Avoid the temptation to wait until the pandemic is over to address issues. 
  • Balancing comfort with containment—This involves paying serious attention to your team’s mental well-being and intervening sooner rather than later to address potential problems. It means providing resources and support as needed.
  • Finding new ways to energize yourself and others—This can be done by sharing success stories, shortening meetings, dividing long projects into sprints, and simply communicating, says Wedell-Wedellsborg. Giving team members the confidence and authority to act independently can also provide renewed energy. 

“Resilience is the most fundamental quality for navigating through chaos,” Wedell-Wedellsborg says. Toward that end, the leadership strategies described in this article can help you and your team more effectively manage the current array of challenging work situations and prepare for changes to come.