How leadership has changed since the global COVID health crisis

If the global coronavirus pandemic has taught leaders one thing it’s that no one single leadership style stands above another, executives have claimed.

By Kate Kachor


If the global coronavirus pandemic has taught leaders one thing it’s that no one single leadership style stands above another, executives have claimed.

By Kate Kachor

If the global coronavirus pandemic has taught leaders one thing it’s that no one single leadership style stands above another, executives have claimed.

With the rapid changes to workplaces over the last 18 months, people are now struggling with a sense of connection and belonging.

“We’re at an interesting phase. I think connection has suffered throughout COVID-19,”  oOh!media CEO and managing director Cathy O’Connor told the Future Women Leadership Summit at Sydney’s Four Seasons Hotel.

“People’s sense of belonging to their teams to their leaders to their companies, it has struggled and slipped a bit without that physical connection.

“We’re also feeling emancipated from those long 10 to 12 hour days, five consecutive days a week. We actually feel we had a little more control in our lives and that makes us a little more fulfilled and more effective,” she said.

“I think there’s a balance to strike ensuring that need for physical connection and the new desire for more control and flexibility and how we fit work into our lives.”

Sian Lewis, Group Executive Human Resources, CommBank said the last 18 months have proven there isn’t one way of standing up and being a leader.

“That self-talk in your head, if you convince yourself that you are, you’re going to convince yourself out of it,” she said.

“We are all unique. We all find a unique way of moving towards that leadership space.”

Sian Lewis, Group Executive Human Resources at Commonwealth Bank speaking at Future Women's Leadership Summit 2022

Sian Lewis, CommBank Group Executive Human Resources, said Covid-19 has demonstrated the value of diverse leadership styles

Lewis said at the time she started her leadership career, a popular approach was the inspirational leader.

“Now a lot of what the inspirational leader said was really good. It said you needed to provide clarity, it said you need to communicate, you need to be positive and have passion,” she said.

She believes positivity as a leader is incredible important.

“If you lose faith or you amplify stress you make it 10 times worse for the people working with you,” she said.

“I’ve had to train myself to be more positive. To not only to be a more successful leader but to be a more outgoing and successful human being as well. But you can train yourself to do it.”

She said even if you don’t have a naturally glass half full disposition, you can train yourself to be more positive. She also a big fan of passion.

“If you’re doing something that you don’t love – and we’ve all had jobs that we don’t love and been leaders in teams where we don’t think we’re functioning at our best – so you do need to bring your passion and positivity,” she said.

Lewis another crucial element in a leader is consistency.

“I think there’s nothing more confusing than going to a meeting with your leader and having them being command and control one day and then ‘how are you? Let’s talk about your career’ the next day,” she said.

“So while I think we absolutely have to adapt, which is what we’ve been talking about, I think it’s about the essence of you and the essence of the leader you are and remaining true to that as we go through our leadership journey so that you don’t send out confusing signals to people about what they should and shouldn’t be achieving.”

O’Connor said the command and control style of leadership, particularly in a CEO, has historically been attached to the notion that the CEO has to call all the shots and the CEO is the hero with all the answers.

She says it’s a style of leadership she’s never subscribed to.

Yet, as businesses become more complex and ambiguous, many staff long for that type of leader “will you please just tell me what to do, this is getting really hard”.

“My philosophy is that an executive team is not a bunch of functioning specialists, it’s a team of generalists,” she said.

“Even though they have specific skills and their own responsibilities they must be able to think broadly about the business and how to deliver shared success.”

She said it’s important as a leader to be clear about your intent about collaboration otherwise a sense of “just spinning the wheels can really kick in”.

“Be selfish about outcomes and be selfish about making decisions. You don’t have to sacrifice your collaborative style to get the job done and be decisive,” she said.

O’Connor said she believes her future leadership model is one of fast collaboration or decisive collaboration.

oOh!media CEO and managing director Cathy O’Connor spoke at Future Women’s Leadership Summit 2022

“I think my leadership style is evolving and it will continue to evolve. I think you absolutely can change your style. I think it’s really important that you can adjust your style because everything else around you is changing at pace,” she said.

As for how Lewis perceives the future of leadership at CBA.

“We’re in a fast-paced environment, expectations of our consumers and society as a whole is not only high but getting higher at a fast pace than it has before,” she said.

“We’re incredibly networked but not we’re not incredibly connected. So it’s a confusing environment in which to start thinking about leadership. We want our 7000 leaders at CBA to be unique.

“They will lead and find a way to lead in their own way, which is really I guess the message for me today for all of you. Find a way. There isn’t one model out there, but there is a way that you can lead successfully.”