The recent COVID-19 lockdown has resulted in certain changes within organizations all over the world. This is why leaders chose to have a different approach to mitigate specific factors that were negatively influencing the workforce and overall productivity. Researchers found that flexibility is one of the leaders’ traits that helped create job satisfaction among team members, efficiently transition to a new system, and maintain a safe environment. This paper examines the evidence highlighting how transformational leadership and certain strategies that correlate with flexibility has helped managers during the challenging crisis from the last years. Moreover, the recent events have highlighted that planning in advance, quick decision-making, motivating employees, and de-escalation of conflicts will allow leaders to cope with organizational issues during future challenges.
Recently, most companies have suffered significant changes in how they operate in the market. Moreover, employees and organizational leaders were experiencing substantial problems. Due to the quarantine, health risks, and new governmental regulations, multiple companies were forced to have a different approach to managing team members, work schedules, and other domains related to human resources. The biggest problem that businesses have faced is having to urgently shift from one model to another.
Since such a devastating global pandemic was unexpected and sudden, managers were not ready for such major reforms. Most companies already have specific plans and strategies in case of crises (Frandsen & Johansen, 2019). However, no one was expecting the situation to be as difficult Researchers define an organizational crisis as a concept that causes damage and adverse outcomes (Abdalla et al., 2021). Leaders were faced with dilemmas such as how the organization will operate under new rules and whether the outcomes will be as positive as pre-pandemic. All the responsibilities have caused some of the managers to adopt certain approaches that were not favorable. Some of the leadership models could not offer the necessary level of support, decision-making, and motivation that employees desperately needed.
The scope of this essay is to examine how leaders and researchers approached the changes that occurred because of the recent pandemic. Moreover, the topics of change management, flexible leadership, and the impact on shareholders will be discussed in order for specific recommendations to be proposed. Since most businesses have gone through major changes that have never been experienced before, such circumstances allow researchers to examine the topic of crisis management with a perspective on leadership. Based on the analysis of how leaders chose to cope with the situation, it has been concluded that individuals who achieved success were those who were able to think quickly, support their employees, and pre-plan some of the strategies used during crises (Contreras et al., 2020). All these aspects are illustrated by flexible transformational leaders who know how to approach challenging situations while considering team members as a primary focus (Fernandez & Shaw, 2020). Recent events have shown that employees can be motivated, hard-working, and innovative even during organizational challenges. However, in order for this to happen, the leader should make the member’s and their well-being a priority.
COVID-19 has caused the primary stakeholders, the workforce, to be impacted on multiple levels. Health risks, new regulations, preventative measures, and shifts in lifestyles were threats in terms of motivation, will to overcome obstacles, and desire to continue delivering a good performance for the company. Most employees had to quickly learn how to work remotely yet remain as efficient as pre-pandemic, which was challenging physically and psychologically. Many external triggers created risks for anxiety, low morale, and a lack of job satisfaction. There was a demand for managers who could combine de-escalation of the problem with necessary measures to ensure positive outcomes for employees (Williams, 2020). Leaders who were flexible, confident, and quick in terms of decision-making and implementing change management strategies managed to keep the workforce motivated and efficient.
Organizational Crisis/Change Management
It is certain that the pandemic has been referred to as a crisis-inducing event for most businesses on the market. According to researchers, such unfortunate circumstances are not only damaging on external levels but also impact the workforce (Giustiniano et al., 2020). People were forced to work from home while dealing with health risks, mental health problems due to isolation, and fear for friends and family members. Such severe measures have been a nuance for most people since this is the first time most offices were closed, and employees had to quickly shift to remote working.
Change management is an integral part of any organizational crisis. Leaders have to make quick changes and consider multiple factors that may affect organizational outcomes. Mather (2020) describes this type of approach as requiring an innovative way of thinking and an escape from the comfort zone for most managers. While specific organizational reforms usually result of low profit, inefficiency, or lack of productivity, the pandemic has created a situation requiring change without any previous issues. Moreover, the sudden change focused on minimizing employee risks rather than improving how the company operates. There was a severe need to implement different leadership approaches, which is one of the aspects of transformational management. According to researchers, abruptly switching from one model to another requires bravery (Nicola et al., 2020). It is certain that leaders who considered all the organizational needs and were able to adapt to the new system were courageous since all the reforms had to be implemented effectively and in the shortest time possible.
Flexibility has been found to have the best effects on the workforce during a crisis. Managers who were able to adapt and quickly operate the governmental regulation managed to keep their employees safe. Researchers refer to leaders as individuals who find it more challenging to deal with the crisis in comparison to other team members (Kirchner et al., 2021). The pressure of remaining calm, ensuring a supportive atmosphere within the workforce, and making the right organizational decisions created an obstacle that only flexible leaders could overcome. Flexible leadership is the model in which a manager can adapt to specific situations, external impacts, and crises while still focusing on customer satisfaction and employees’ well-being (Roberts, 2020). An excellent example is a lockdown in which employees were isolated, and the chance of having effective in-person communication disappeared. Liebermann et al. (2021) illustrated the situation as one in which leaders could not give the necessary motivation and inspiration that the team members needed. However, the flexibility allowed individuals to use technology as team-building tools, platforms for practical discussions, and measures for keeping morale high. According to researchers, the lockdown has proven that online training and frequently communicating through e-platforms positively affect motivation (Wolor et al., 2020). Being able to shift from in-person meetings and motivational exercises to using video calls and chats is one aspect of flexibility.
Leadership Approaches and Strategies
There are several approaches that help leaders deal with the problems and give employees the necessary tools to overcome the obstacles related to quarantine. First and foremost, managers have to ensure their employees are safe (Zhang et al., 2020). This means that each member of the workforce has to follow certain guidelines that correlate with safety measures. While an autocratic leader would implement the rules and expect them to be followed, a flexible transformational leader relies on trust. Researchers mention the importance of building a collective social identity that focuses on the collective rather than on the individual (Haslam et al., 2020). Moreover, solidarity in adequately responding to the pandemic is a construct based on collective effort (Al Saidi et al., 2020). Managers who were able to explain that the new implementations were designed to serve a greater good were less likely to meet resilience and rebellions within the workforce. This highlights the second important trait of a flexible transformational leader, which is effective communication. Ball (2020) refers to the significance of addressing challenges and organizational issues face-to-face with the team members who are directly affected by the structural reforms. Forster et al. (2020) also mention that open discussions are the key to success during crises. Leaders found it easier to manage issues when they were able to be transparent with employees and openly address the questions and challenges as a team rather than as individuals.
Besides relying on effective communication with employees, leadership is most proficient when managers take into consideration the needs of their team members. Since remote work was the main challenge, leaders had to ensure employees were as efficient as they were while working in an office (Bartsch et al., 2020). One of the aspects that such structural changes impact is the need for access to technology, which the manager has to provide (Dirani et al., 2020). Bundy et al. (2016) highlighted that employees who used to be proficient before the new changes were more likely to expect the same level of productiveness from themselves during the lockdown. This also refers to access to adequate devices and high-speed internet, which a leader has to take care of even under remote working conditions. Mental health was another major issue that team members were experiencing during the quarantine measures. Some people tend to hide their genuine concerns and fears, which is why it is vital to establish trust and transparency early on (Byrne & Wykes, 2020). Ensuring that employees are in a good state of mind is essential for having a positive organizational environment and productivity.
The Strategic Importance of Stakeholder Satisfaction
The main stakeholders that were influenced by the recent lockdown were the employees who had to experience a sudden shift in lifestyles, professional environments, and health concerns. It is crucial to ensure that these stakeholders maintain a high level of motivation and job satisfaction, which can be hard based on all the external factors that may minimize all possible efforts. Crisis situations may induce fear and uncertainty, leading to a lack of high performance and proficiency (Lagowska et al., 2020). The importance of implementing strategies to ensure team members’ needs are taken care of is essential for a company that strives to be as productive and pre-pandemic. If the workforce loses the will to put in the effort and have a positive mindset, the crisis will continue long after the external factors that caused it in the first place disappear.
Flexible transformational leadership has recommended itself as the most efficient way of mitigating crisis situations and maintaining a positive atmosphere within the workforce. Researchers also refer to the transformational style as the one that benefits competitiveness during challenging times, such as the COVID-19 pandemic (Alqatawenah, 2018). There are several strategies to be included in the plan for ensuring practical implementations during challenging financial and social issues.
Planning in Advance
It is always vital to have a plan in case the organization is affected by internal or external triggers that may impact productivity. Researchers point out that managers have to implement specific exercises and preventative plans in advance to have a team that is ready for the changes that may occur in the future (Ahern & Loh, 2020). Moreover, Lacerda (2019) points out that one of the primary responsibilities of a good leader is mitigating uncertainty. Using the recent crisis as a learning opportunity is an excellent way of dealing with possible risks in the future (Memish et al., 2020). A workforce that has the necessary tools to deal with possible changes is one that will be able to maintain the same level of proficiency.
The ability to make decisions quickly and do it under stressful situations is an excellent trait that defines effective leadership during a crisis. Al‐Dabbagh (2020) purposes specific training to give leaders the necessary tools through simulations of organizational issues requiring such measures as fast thinking. Another important trait is the ability to operate timely implementations of strategies (Stoller, 2020). Moreover, this aligns with the theory of rational choice (Coccia, 2021). Based on this methodology, leaders have to rationally approach a problem and resolve it efficiently while considering personal and corporate interests.
Motivation and Charisma
A charismatic leader is well-liked by the followers, which is one of the bases for the transformational style. Bhaduri (2019) mentions this method as an effective way of organizing the workforce. Charisma is an efficient tool during corporate problems since it mitigates some of the negative connotations (Antonakis, 2021). Forester and McKibbon (2020) specifically mention how cooperation was one of the most proficient aspects during the COVID-19 lockdown. Team members were able to act as a collective force and stand against all the uncertainty and fears that the pandemic has caused.
As certain employees may feel a sense of anxiety, leaders are the ones who have to be the voice of reason. Kaul et al. (2021) refer to the importance of maintaining an aim to achieve long-term goals even if the current situation is challenging. The recent lockdown has caused many leaders to implement autocratic traits within their companies (Maak et al., 2021). However, those who managed to save their democratic values were more successful in terms of outcomes and job satisfaction among employees (Wardman, 2020). Organizations were more likely to keep the standard productiveness level with rational managers who were able to de-escalate the fear and uncertainty within their organizations’ workforces.
The COVID-19 lockdown has allowed researchers to examine how leaders were able to operate their organizations and which of the strategies turned out to be most effective. It has been found that flexibility was the main trait that allowed businesses to keep an efficient level of productivity. Leaders had to emphasize a sense of cooperation within the workforce and keep their employees motivated during challenging times. The recent experience illustrates that leaders will have to think quickly, plan in advance, use their charisma, and de-escalate negative feelings during a future crisis that requires a shift in leadership.
Abdalla, M., Alarabi, L. and Hendawi, A. (2021) ‘Crisis management art from the risks to the control: A review of methods and directions,’ Information, 12(1), p. 18. doi: 10.3390/info12010018.
Ahern, S. and Loh, E. (2020) ‘Leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic: Building and Sustaining Trust in times of uncertainty,’ BMJ Leader. doi: 10.1136/leader-2020-000271.
Al Saidi, A. M., Nur, F. A., Al-Mandhari, A. S., El Rabbat, M., Hafeez, A. and Abubakar, A. (2020) ‘Decisive leadership is a necessity in the COVID-19 response,’ The Lancet, 396(10247), pp. 295–298. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(20)31493-8.
Alqatawenah, A. S. (2018) ‘Transformational leadership style and its relationship with change management,’ Business: Theory and Practice, 19, pp. 17–24. doi: 10.3846/btp.2018.03.
Al‐Dabbagh, Z. S. (2020) ‘The role of decision‐maker in crisis management: A qualitative study using grounded theory (COVID‐19 pandemic crisis as a model),’ Journal of Public Affairs. doi: 10.1002/pa.2186.
Antonakis, J. (2021) ‘Leadership to defeat COVID-19,’ Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 24(2), pp. 210–215. doi: 10.1177/1368430220981418.
Ball, C. G. (2020) ‘Leadership during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond,’ Canadian Journal of Surgery, 63(4). doi: 10.1503/cjs.016020.
Bartsch, S., Weber, E., Büttgen, M. and Huber, A. (2020) ‘Leadership matters in crisis-induced digital transformation: How to lead service employees effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic,’ Journal of Service Management, 32(1), pp. 71–85. doi: 10.1108/josm-05-2020-0160.
Bhaduri, R. M. (2019) ‘Leveraging culture and leadership in crisis management,’ European Journal of Training and Development, 43(5/6), pp. 554–569. doi: 10.1108/ejtd-10-2018-0109.
Bundy, J., Pfarrer, M. D., Short, C. E. and Coombs, W. T. (2016) ‘Crises and crisis management: Integration, interpretation, and research development,’ Journal of Management, 43(6), pp. 1661–1692. doi: 10.1177/0149206316680030.
Byrne, L. and Wykes, T. (2020) ‘A role for lived experience mental health leadership in the age of COVID-19,’ Journal of Mental Health, 29(3), pp. 243–246. doi: 10.1080/09638237.2020.1766002.
Coccia, M. (2021) ‘Critical decisions for crisis management: An introduction,’ SSRN Electronic Journal. doi: 10.2139/ssrn.3838653.
Contreras, F., Baykal, E. and Abid, G. (2020) ‘E-leadership and teleworking in times of COVID-19 and beyond: What we know and where do we go,’ Frontiers in Psychology, 11. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.590271.
Dirani, K. M., Abadi, M., Alizadeh, A., Barhate, B., Garza, R. C., Gunasekara, N., Ibrahim, G. and Majzun, Z. (2020) ‘Leadership competencies and the essential role of Human Resource Development in times of crisis: A response to COVID-19 pandemic,’ Human Resource Development International, 23(4), pp. 380–394. doi: 10.1080/13678868.2020.1780078.
Fernandez, A. A. and Shaw, G. P. (2020) ‘Academic leadership in a time of crisis: The Coronavirus and Covid‐19,’ Journal of Leadership Studies, 14(1), pp. 39–45. doi: 10.1002/jls.21684.
Forester, J. and McKibbon, G. (2020) ‘Beyond blame: Leadership, collaboration and compassion in the time of COVID-19,’ Socio-Ecological Practice Research, 2(3), pp. 205–216. doi: 10.1007/s42532-020-00057-0.
Forster, B. B., Patlas, M. N. and Lexa, F. J. (2020) ‘Crisis leadership during and following COVID-19,’ Canadian Association of Radiologists Journal, 71(4), pp. 421–422. doi: 10.1177/0846537120926752.
Frandsen, F. and Johansen, W. (2019) ‘Advice on communicating during crisis: A study of popular crisis management books,’ International Journal of Business Communication, 57(2), pp. 260–276. doi: 10.1177/2329488419883002.
Giustiniano, L., Cunha, M. P., Simpson, A. V., Rego, A. and Clegg, S. (2020) ‘Resilient leadership as paradox work: Notes from COVID-19,’ Management and Organization Review, 16(5), pp. 971–975. doi: 10.1017/mor.2020.57.
Haslam, S. A., Steffens, N. K., Reicher, S. and Bentley, S. (2020) ‘Identity leadership in a crisis: a 5R framework for learning from responses to COVID-19.’ doi: 10.31234/osf.io/bhj49.
Kaul, V., Shah, V. H. and El-Serag, H. (2020) ‘Leadership during crisis: Lessons and applications from the COVID-19 pandemic,’ Gastroenterology, 159(3), pp. 809–812. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2020.04.076.
Kirchner, K., Ipsen, C. and Hansen, J. P. (2021) ‘Covid-19 leadership challenges in knowledge work,’ Knowledge Management Research & Practice, pp. 1–8. doi: 10.1080/14778238.2021.1877579.
Lacerda, T. C. (2019) ‘Crisis leadership in economic recession: A three-barrier approach to offset external constraints,’ Business Horizons, 62(2), pp. 185–197. doi: 10.1016/j.bushor.2018.08.005.
Lagowska, U., Sobral, F. and Furtado, L. M. (2020) ‘Leadership under crises: A research agenda for the post-COVID-19 era,’ BAR – Brazilian Administration Review, 17(2). doi: 10.1590/1807-7692bar2020200062.
Liebermann, S. C., Blenckner, K., Diehl, J.-H., Feilke, J., Frei, C., Grikscheit, S., Hünsch, S., Kohring, K., Lay, J., Lorenzen, G. and Reinhardt, J. (2021) ‘Abrupt implementation of telework in the public sector during the COVID-19 crisis,’ Zeitschrift für Arbeits- und Organisationspsychologie A&O, 65(4), pp. 258–266. doi: 10.1026/0932-4089/a000367.
Maak, T., Pless, N. M. and Wohlgezogen, F. (2021) ‘The fault lines of leadership: Lessons from the global COVID-19 crisis,’ Journal of Change Management, 21(1), pp. 66–86. doi: 10.1080/14697017.2021.1861724.
Mather, P. (2020) ‘Leadership and governance in a crisis: Some reflections on COVID-19,’ Journal of Accounting & Organizational Change, 16(4), pp. 579–585. doi: 10.1108/jaoc-08-2020-0123.
Memish, Z. A., Ebrahim, S. H., Kattan, R. F., Alharthy, A., Alqahtani, S. A. and Karakitsos, D. (2020) ‘Leadership to prevent COVID-19: Is it the most important mitigation factor?,’ Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease, 38, p. 101925. doi: 10.1016/j.tmaid.2020.101925.
Nicola, M., Sohrabi, C., Mathew, G., Kerwan, A., Al-Jabir, A., Griffin, M., Agha, M. and Agha, R. (2020) ‘Health policy and leadership models during the COVID-19 pandemic: A Review,’ International Journal of Surgery, 81, pp. 122–129. doi: 10.1016/j.ijsu.2020.07.026.
Roberts, R. (2020) ‘Covid‐19, leadership and lessons from physics,’ Australian Journal of Rural Health, 28(3), pp. 232–235. doi: 10.1111/ajr.12649.
Stoller, J. K. (2020) ‘Reflections on leadership in the time of COVID-19,’ BMJ Leader, 4(2), pp. 77–79. doi: 10.1136/leader-2020-000244.
Wardman, J. K. (2020) ‘Recalibrating pandemic risk leadership: Thirteen crisis-ready strategies for COVID-19,’ Journal of Risk Research, 23(7-8), pp. 1092–1120. doi: 10.1080/13669877.2020.1842989.
Williams, P. (2020) ‘Crisis management,’ Contemporary Strategy, pp. 152–171. doi: 10.4324/9781003104339-10.
Wolor, C. W., Solikhah, S., Fidhyallah, N. F. and Lestari, D. P. (2020) ‘Effectiveness of e-training, e-leadership, and work life balance on employee performance during COVID-19,’ The Journal of Asian Finance, Economics and Business, 7(10), pp. 443–450. doi: 10.13106/jafeb.2020.vol7.no10.443.
Zhang, J., Xie, C., Wang, J., Morrison, A. M. and Coca-Stefaniak, J. A. (2020) ‘Responding to a major global crisis: The effects of hotel safety leadership on employee safety behavior during COVID-19,’ International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 32(11), pp. 3365–3389. doi: 10.1108/ijchm-04-2020-0335.