The 4 Evolutions of Leadership During COVID-19

Jacob Morgan, founder of the Future of Work University, had an outstanding post on LinkedIn that identified his thoughts on where leadership was going post COVID-19.  I couldn’t help but sit back and think about how leaders in my industry have been forced to evolve over the last several months.  Most leaders in the hospitality industries have been plunged into roles we either aren’t familiar with, or haven’t done in a while.  As travel returns, and we bring our teams back, many of us find that our teams are being forced to evolve as well.  In many cases those departmental roles that define us blur as we are forced to change responsibilities multiple times a day as business (or lack thereof) dictates.  

This isn’t just a hospitality evolution either.  Many colleagues in other industries are finding themselves wearing many hats, and being pushed into areas where they don’t necessarily have expertise.  As a result leaders are being forced to lead from a position of inclusion as opposed to instruction.  As Jacob Morgan points out, the leaders of tomorrow have dynamic boundaries, are supportive of their teams, and earn their leadership.  These are all true as we rebuild our organizations during COVID-19, but there is a greater vulnerability where leaders no longer are the authority that can mentor their teams.  Instead many leaders are finding themselves learning and leading at the same time.  

4 Evolutions of a COVID-19 Leader

  1. Specialist to Contributor – Leaders generally have a lane that made them successful enough to earn the leadership of others.  They were financial experts, operational wizards, or empathetic collaborators (HR).  Now, leaders are wearing hats that they most likely have never tried on.  Leaders are shifting from specialists to simply contributors.  In my position as a General Manager I find myself, over the last few months, doing everything from making beds, to serving coffee, to forecasting future revenues.  Sure this comes with the territory usually, but in many cases I am the only one here to do those things, and that is new.  As I bring back members of my team they have a general area of focus, but usually perform three to five different functions a day, the majority of which they are learning on the job.  Business owners are realizing that there are synergies to be found to regain financial viability, and the key to that is the leadership and acceptance of the contributor role by everyone.  While this can be stressful, it is also a great opportunity for growth and development.  
  2. Powerful to Empowering – Prior to a massive streamlining in staffing, leaders would have the ability to supervise the outcome of initiatives while offering empowerment to the team as a tool to accomplish their goals.  Now, many leaders have lost the ability to supervise or micro-manage a situation, and are having to offer real empowerment to their leaders and teams.  Sure, almost all leadership literature these days tells you that you should do that anyway, but the command and control style of leadership is still alive and well in most of our organizations in some form or another.  COVID-19 has thinned the ranks to the point where leaders are getting an opportunity to take the training wheels off of their teams and empower them to quite literally ride solo.  While leaders should have been transitioning to empowerment as a form of engagement, they simply don’t have a choice anymore and the results have been outstanding.  In my experience, employees are starting to grow into the moment, and earn the skillsets they probably should have been offered prior to all of this.  
  3. Trainer to Student Teacher – Prior to the business impact of COVID-19, leaders were able to train their teams in their department, or position specific duties.  There were subject matter experts that were able to quote processes and standard operating procedures, while at the same time making them come to life for members of their team.  Now, training has simply given way to doing.  My hotel had to let our entire housekeeping team go when the downturn started, but we still had a property to clean.  I had cleaned rooms plenty of times during my career, but I had not been the only one responsible for doing it since I was 18 and the only person working overnight at a Hampton Inn.  I had to learn how to clean rooms all over again, and as I did, I became the subject matter expert that then had to teach the other Executives to do the same.  This pattern of learning and teaching is happening in rapid succession throughout my organization, as well as many others.  The confident trainer has given way to the humble student, who must then become the teacher.  
  4. Mentor to Coach –  A mentor is someone that can guide you to a solution by using their shared knowledge of the experience, challenge, or opportunity you are trying to solve for.  A coach on the other hand isn’t a subject matter expert, but rather is someone that is able to shephard an individual to achieve their own answers.  Greg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, probably didn’t have any business mentoring Tim Duncan, his future hall of fame power forward, in being a great post player.  He was able to coach him however, to help him develop and create skills that made him great.  As leaders we aren’t necessarily able to mentor our employees anymore.  As I have said frequently, we are learning as we go in many cases.  Instead of trying to have all the answers, leaders need to help their employees find the answers themselves by empowering them and supporting them.  Communication has evolved in delivery, frequency, tone, and objective, and leaders must evolve as well.

As with every crisis, some things will return to “normal”, but others have been permanently changed.  Organizations are allowing their employees to work from home in record numbers, positions are being eliminated and combined, and job duties are shifting.  Leaders are now embracing their opportunity to evolve once again, as the world continues to feel the impact of COVID-19.  

I’d love to hear how you are evolving as a leader or contributor within your organization.  Take the time to share your thoughts.  It might help someone else’s evolution.  

Thank You,

Chris Cano


JLH Leadership Solutions


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