The Silver Lining to the Pandemic

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Home > Articles > The Silver Lining to the Pandemic

 The Silver Lining to the Pandemic

by Jo Owen | Today's Manager
June 1, 2021
Looking at the pandemic in a positive light. Interesting? Read on . . .

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused huge grief to many around the world. But there is a silver lining: the pandemic may be the best thing to have happened to leadership in 200 years.

The pandemic caused us to discover three things:

  1. People and firms can change far faster than anyone thought possible before;
  2. Leaders need to up their game to manage remote and hybrid teams; and
  3. The days of command and control are finally coming to an end.

People and Firms can Change Far Faster than Anyone Thought Possible Before
In the years BC (before COVID-19) we fooled ourselves into thinking that we were living in revolutionary times, driven by the Internet, technology, and globalisation. But those years now seem like a gentle walk in the park compared to the lightning change that we saw during the pandemic.

organisations that I work with showed just how fast change can happen. Teach First is the UK’s largest graduate recruiter. Recruiting and training teachers is a high contact business. When the pandemic broke, Teach First managed to go remote overnight for all of its recruiting and training. It has had a record year and it will now go into a hybrid model of face-to-face and remote working.

Missing People deals with the human tragedy of helping families when a family member goes missing. It is highly sensitive work. To maintain quality a
nd confidentiality, it was vital to keep all the call operators together. Again, overnight, they re-organised to deliver their service remotely and they will also go back to a hybrid form of working after the pandemic.

eaders and firms passed the first challenge of responding to the crisis. The bigger challenge comes next. Will they now sink back into their comfort zone believing that they have ‘done’ change for a few years? If they do, they will find that comfort zones can quickly become uncomfortable unless you keep changing. So the next challenge for all leaders is to challenge their other assumptions about how to work, compete, and organise. No one questioned the need to work in an office before: what other assumptions can you productively challenge?

Leaders Need to Up Their Game to Manage Remote and Hybrid Teams
Managing a remote team is far harder than managing in the office. That is excellent news for all leaders. It means that you have to be far more purposeful and deliberate in your leadership practice. Some leaders will rise to the challenge, others will not. This is your chance to shine.

Leading in an office is relatively easy. It is easy to communicate; if there is a misunderstanding, it is easy to spot and fix; you can see
who is slacking and who is striving; it is easy to give and ask for help. Leading remotely is harder. The first person to work out how to motivate by E-mail will make a fortune: it is a fortune which is unlikely to be made. Aside from motivation, communication, work load management, goal setting, mentoring, problem solving, and team building are all far harder remotely. For all of these reasons, the office is not dead, but we will learn to use it less and to use it better.

eadership in the office is fairly ad hoc. You can see what is happening in real time and respond in real time. Leading remotely you can not afford to be ad hoc: you have to be much more deliberate and purposeful in all that you do. This raises the bar for leaders and managers. If you can manage a remote team well, you will have acquired skills to help you manage an office based team even better. Hybrid working is your chance to learn and step up.

The Days of Command and Control are Finally Coming to an End
The pandemic has simply accelerated many trends which were already there. Command and control was already wilting in the face of an increasingly educated, professional, and independent workforce. Professionals hate being micro-managed and they probably think that they can do your job better than you can. And if they do not like the way you manage, they can leave: most people do not leave their firm, they leave their boss.

Control freak bosses have found it is much harder to be a control freak when you cannot see your team. You have to trust that your team is working and doing the right thing while you are not watching them. You have
to trust that they are not feeding the dog or practising the ukulele. The need for trust in place of control is even more important given the ambiguous nature of professional work. A report can be one page long or 100 pages long, but there will always be another fact to gather or another opinion to canvas. It is not like producing widgets or making deliveries where an algorithm can monitor your performance and compare it to others.

In place of command and control, leaders are having to learn the arts of trust and delegation, of persuasion and influence. These are higher order skills than traditional command and control.


The post COVID-19 world will sort the best leaders from the rest. The best leaders will be the ones who:

  • Embrace and accelerate the pace of change;
  • Become more purposeful and deliberate in how they lead; and
  • Switch from command and control to persuade, influence, delegate, and trust.

Modern management was forged in the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago. The pandemic is finally forcing management to move from 19th century principles to the 21st century.  


Mr Jo Owen is the award-winning author of How to Lead, Global Teams and Resilience. He is the founder of eight NGOs, he started a bank and was a partner at Accenture. As a keynote virtual speaker he can be contacted at


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Today's Manager Issue 2, 2021

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