Many leadership traits—for example, ambition, initiative, attention to detail, business acumen , creative problem solving and critical thinking skills—will always be desirable in business leaders regardless of internal or external conditions of the moment. No matter what, the people who possess these characteristics will be valuable to their organizations and the teams they lead.
However, the widespread adoption of remote and hybrid work that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic has forced certain leadership traits to the forefront and accentuated their importance. Why?
This new work environment is defined by:
- Less in-person connection
- Greater physical distances between colleagues—sometimes across state lines and even time zones
- Fewer opportunities for collaboration and spontaneity
- Less direct supervision from managers
- Increased workplace flexibility
- Blurred lines between work and personal time
The circumstances surrounding managing remote and hybrid employees have challenged leaders to hone existing traits and perhaps practice them in a new way, as well as acquire new skills.
8 leadership traits for today’s leaders
As you assess the effectiveness of your slate of managers and evaluate your individual contributors for potential promotion to the ranks of leadership, here are the must-have traits that all current and future business leaders should exhibit in our post-pandemic working landscape:
1. Servant leadership and coaching abilities
The role of the manager has fundamentally changed. Previously, managers were traditional “bosses,” their relationships with direct reports characterized by formality, power and control. An employee’s advancement depended on how their boss judged them in an annual performance review.
In remote and hybrid work environments, this outdated view of the managerial role just won’t cut it. Why?
- Regular contact between managers and employees is essential to build relationships based on trust.
- Extra initiative on the part of managers is critical to maintain employees’ motivation and engagement.
- Employee expectations of their managers, especially as younger Millennials and Generation Z grow in numbers in the workforce, have simply evolved.
Today, a manager is viewed more as a guide or a coach. Managers are facilitators, removing obstacles from employees’ paths and obtaining resources to help employees perform at their best. Managers advise on how to improve certain skills and achieve goals. And lastly, managers help employees chart their career path and plan the next move in their career progression.
It’s all about being a servant leader – the practice of setting one’s own needs aside to serve others and help them excel.
In evaluating who within your organization is well suited for management, keep an eye out of specific leadership traits. Look for managers and employees who:
- Genuinely care about others
- Enjoy helping others accomplish a task or goal
- Are team players who care as much about the success of the group as their own individual success
Where, when and how we work have transformed rapidly in the last few years. The evolution of the workplace will undoubtedly continue, because economic conditions, sociopolitical issues, markets, industries, technological developments and employee preferences, for example, aren’t stagnant either. Change is our constant.
Regardless of any unsettling events happening around us, it’s important for leaders to display resilience. When confronted with difficulties, they must be able to:
- Recover well and formulate a plan of action
- Learn from the past and apply that knowledge to the future
- Express confidence in the organization’s values, mission and vision
- Remind team members of their shared purpose and goals to keep them on track
- Model steadiness and fortitude to help employees develop a mindset of resilience
Who makes an effective leader? Look for managers and employees who adapt quickly – especially those who have thrived in a remote or hybrid work environment.
3. Empathy and emotional intelligence
- Put yourself in someone else’s shoes to understand their viewpoint
- Perceive others’ feelings through a combination of verbal and non-verbal cues (body language and tone)
By understanding their employees, managers:
- Know what motivates or de-motivates them, and can adjust their leadership and communication styles to better guide their teams
- Notice when an employee is stressed, upset or distracted, and can initiate a conversation that leads to faster resolution of the issue
It’s easier to detect others’ feelings when they’re right in front of you.
But what about employees who you don’t see frequently – or the employees you never see except through a computer screen? Now more than ever, managers must get to know their employees and regularly engage with them so they understand which behaviors to look out for and how to effectively lead them.
Additionally, remote and hybrid employees are subject to greater stressors than ever before. Working from home can involve unique disruptions, such as:
- Spotty internet connections
- Barking dogs and small children in the background of videoconferences
- Challenges in balancing personal obligations with work
- Family issues spilling over into the middle of the work day
Managers should extend grace and understanding toward employees, rather than judgment and recognize that employees are humans with lives outside work. Instead of stressing about the minor stuff, managers need to start asking: “How are you? Is there anything I can do to make your working situation more comfortable?”
Managers can also share tips and best practices with employees on managing stress and avoiding distractions.
Who makes an effective leader? Look for managers and employees who:
- Pay attention to others’ feelings
- Show grace and compassion toward others
- Are skilled at reading people
4. Sharp focus
Employees aren’t the only ones struggling with lots of distractions at home. Managers are susceptible to the same challenges.
Leaders have a lot of responsibilities on their plate and they often assume they can multitask successfully in a remote environment. However, it’s not as easy as it may appear at first. Like any other employee, managers must take care to maintain their focus and attention to detail outside the traditional office environment.
It can also be helpful for managers to schedule periodic breaks throughout the day to reset and recharge. After all, several hours of staring at a computer screen can make anyone’s attention wander.
In identifying potentially successful leaders, look for patterns of behavior in managers and employees that prove they inherently have the leadership trait of sharp focus.
- Do they often make mistakes?
- Do they miss deadlines or regularly drop the ball?
- Do they fail to meet goals?
- Do they make it a regular practice to schedule time for certain tasks, or are they always trying to multitask?
5. Guardian of work-life balance and mental health
Working from home can increase the risk of becoming a workaholic. Many employees find themselves answering “just one more email” at 10 p.m. or feeling like they have to overcompensate to prove their value and work ethic by putting in extra hours in the evening or early morning. When your work space and living space occupy the same real estate, it’s almost too easy to work – your laptop is right there on the dining room table!
But this isn’t sustainable for the long term – in fact, it’s a leading cause of employee burnout.
Managers need to look out for workaholic behaviors and discourage them. Instead, managers should promote work-life balance by:
- Setting expectations and rules for work practices (for example, no work emails sent after office close)
- Promoting resources available to employees, such as an employee assistance program or workplace wellness programs, that can assist with mental health challenges as well as other personal issues
- Encouraging employees to take breaks and time off when needed
- Prioritizing quality and results over time spent in the office
- Modeling desirable behaviors – managers should adhere to any office policies that promote work-life balance and avoid showing reluctance to take time off
Who would make a great leader in your organization? Look for managers and employees who:
- Have established healthy personal boundaries rather than working at all hours of the day and night without breaks
- Manage their own time well while on the job
- Place importance on mental health, self-care and time with family
Note: Don’t forget to take steps, as an organization, to care for your managers and do your part to promote their wellness.
6. Trusting and empowering others
When employees are off-site, managers can’t exactly walk down the hall to their cubicle to go check on them. Managers of remote employees have to get comfortable with the idea that they can’t hover over their employees all day to see what they’re doing and make sure work gets done. That’s micromanaging, and it can cause employee morale to plummet.
Managers also need to move past the idea that they’re the only ones who can do a task well.
Instead, managers need to cultivate strong relationships based on trust – and then release employees to do their jobs. Managers should empower others to be autonomous and take ownership of their work, within defined parameters, so they’re freed to focus on big-picture responsibilities.
Who makes a strong leader? Look for managers and employees who enjoy teaching others to do a task independently, and are eager to delegate if it means greater efficiency and happier, more fulfilled employees.
7. Effective communication
Good communication and interpersonal skills are always important leadership traits for managers. But now, these skills are absolutely vital because:
- Having employees located in different geographic areas or time zones can mean that managers need to tailor their communication approach—scheduling, frequency and medium—for each team member.
- Greater separation between colleagues means more opportunities for misunderstandings. Managers must know how to communicate to avoid unnecessary conflict.
- Remote employees, especially those located farther distances away from the office, can feel more isolated and disconnected from their workplace, and even out of the information loop. However, good communication from managers can enhance engagement and feelings of belonging.
- Workplace teams use a plethora of media to communicate with each other. Managers need to know which medium to use and when, and how to leverage it most effectively.
As you can see, effective communication has nothing to do with being an introvert or extrovert. Rather, it’s about these traits:
- Relationship building
- Desire to overcome distances and separation to create a cohesive team environment
Remember that effective communication is two way. Managers must make themselves available to employees for receiving their questions, concerns and feedback. Maintaining open lines of communication, and having an open-door policy for employees, is very important.
It can also be a good idea for managers to show vulnerability to team members. Owning up to their own failures and mistakes to demonstrate their humanity can be an excellent teaching moment for team members and can further build trust.
Today, there are a lot of expectations and demands placed on managers. It’s always easy for managers to operate in bubbles given the nature of their position, but it’s especially so when teams are more disconnected. Being able to evaluate oneself, maintain awareness about strengths and shortcomings, and demonstrating an openness to improvement can impact how well managers:
- Engage with team members
- Adapt to change
- Perform over time and reach the next level of leadership
Who may have potential to be a great leader? Look for managers and employees who:
- Take the initiative in identifying development opportunities
- Accept feedback and constructive criticism well
- Seem to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses
It all comes down to people strategy
Leaders tend to get mired in data, execution and outcomes, but it’s clear that a major part of what makes or breaks their success is how well they deal with people—particularly how they foster inspiration, motivation, engagement, productivity and trust from a distance.
The necessity of continual development
No matter whether a manager is brand new or highly experienced in a leadership role, no one knows everything they need to know or has mastered all the leadership traits they’ll ever need to be effective. Learning, development and improvement is an ongoing process. If your workplace has a continuous learning culture (and it should), invest the time and resources in helping your managers regularly work on these skills so they can maximize their effectiveness and value to your company.
Summing it all up
In the post-pandemic workplace, in which remote and hybrid work is commonplace, eight leadership traits have become incredibly valuable to companies and lower-level employees alike. As you evaluate the effectiveness of your leaders and look to identify more individual contributors with management potential, assess how well they embody these eight characteristics. No matter how green or tenured your managers are, commit to developing these skills to ensure that your leaders are as successful as possible.
For more information about how to develop strong, effective leaders in your business, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to leadership and management.