How to Become a Great Pandemic Era Leader

Some business leaders may think that COVID-19, civil unrest, and political uprisings have little to do with them. But a new report by Comhar Partners shows how leadership has changed because of these crises. These tough days call for five key tenets of leadership: unity, action, communication, agility, and empathy. Let’s take a closer look at the findings.

December 9, 2020 – What does it look like to lead in a pandemic era, with COVID-19 raging on, civil unrest all around, and a global shift in health, perspective, and politics? To answer this question, Comhar Partners’ Bernard Layton and J. James O’Malley spoke with leaders in a range of industries to share how their leadership has changed since the pandemic began. They uncovered the five tenets of courageous community building within workplaces: unity, action, communication, agility, and empathy. The Comhar Partners’ report explains how and why you need to bring these tenets into your leadership practice during our pandemic era.

United we stand, divided we fall. It is a phrase we have heard hundreds of times, and yet again, our world – and, more specifically, the communities within our companies – must come together, united as one, said the report. Countries and companies do well when we find common ground in a common cause to overcome a common foe. “While a global pandemic, civil unrest and political uprisings may not seem like topics that you, as a leader, need to consider in your role in the workplace, your role has shifted,” said Mr. Layton. “As leaders in these uncertain times, when stress levels and anxiety are at an all-time high, we need to lead with empathy, transparency and unity, being courageous community leaders for our teams.”

Uniting your team doesn’t mean you need to share your personal beliefs and opinions. Instead, you need to adapt your leadership skills, said Mr. O’Malley. He cited Elena Carstoiu, COO of private equity-backed Hubgets, who said, “The coronavirus pandemic might have taken the world by storm, but it didn’t change the guiding principles of leadership: transparent communication, hands-on mentorship, focus on mental and physical health, constant feedback, engagement and empathy. The only changes lie in how these fundamentals are delivered and their pace of implementation.”

Recruiting Private Equity Leaders During a Pandemic

In this brand new episode of ‘Talent Talks,’ Hunt Scanlon Media host Rob Adams is joined by Bernard Layton and James O’Malley, managing directors of Comhar Partners. In this podcast, Mr. Layton and Mr. O’Malley discuss the importance of reevaluating leaders in the pandemic era. They also examine the skillsets they seek when recruiting PE leaders. Listen now!

“Bring unity to your remote- and in-house teams using the leadership principles you’ve always followed—but remember that empathy and transparency are more important than ever,” said Mr. O’Malley.

Don’t Ignore Communication

We all know that we need to communicate with our team, board members, stakeholders and customers. Still, Bob Flynn, CEO of PE-backed Deflecto, gives clarity around what that means as a leader during a pandemic era: “I believe that real-time and frequent communication from leadership is more important than ever during these difficult times,” he said. “Make it transparent, clear, and concise, so people know where they stand.”

Bernard Layton is co-founder and managing director of Comhar Partners. He has over 10 years of mid-level and senior-level executive search and professional recruiting experience within the industrial and engineering, consumer products, hospitality, technology, and automotive industries. As a director in the firm’s Chicago office, he is responsible for the full cycle search execution of every project deployed on. Mr. Layton is actively involved in the identification and pursuit of new business, candidate and client relationship management, research, candidate development, and presentation full project oversight.

“While this is critical for managing shifts in regulations, company policies, and the like, it’s also crucial for our employees’ mental health,” said Mr. Layton. As Mr. Flynn added: “Any sense of normalcy about their company, career and job can make the rest of the world and its issues easier to bear and take on.”

Be Agile and Ready to Shift

The Comhar Partners’ report said that no one is certain about how the world might shift from the time we hit the pillow at night to the moment we wake up, which is why Michael Pellegrino, president and chief growth officer of Sargento Foods, has focused heavily on agility within his organization.

Related: Executive Recruiting in a Post-COVID-19 Era

“We quickly learned the need for agility because some things were simply out of our control,” he said. “Our normal planning playbook was definitely thrown out, but we knew we could leverage our capabilities across branding, innovation, and customer service to maintain our vital role in the nation’s food supply and keep our business growing.”

James O’Malley is co-founder and managing director of Comhar Partners. For 30 years, he has developed talent acquisition solutions to ensure that leadership talent aligns with changing business needs. He focuses on recruitment for private equity, professional services, and financial services practice groups. Mr. O’Malley has served: Management consulting firms, architecture, engineering, accounting, tax, and law firms in addition to IT, healthcare, operations, and supply chain consultancies. He also helps large commercial, consumer and private banks with their hiring needs.

“We, as leaders, need to lead by example through our agile decision-making,” Mr. O’Malley said. “When employees see our agility, they’re empowered to, in turn, be agile in their own role. Yes, this may mean mistakes are made. Yes, this may mean that we learn lessons the hard way. But it also means that our organization is prepared for whatever headlines meet us each morning.”

Show Empathy Above All

Empathy has become somewhat of a buzzword in the business world since the onset of COVID-19, and for a good reason. Mr. Pellegrino said: “Whether it’s remote work, new childcare needs or figuring out our optimal team dynamic over video. We’re all a lot smarter than we were six months ago, but we need to keep listening and adjusting based on whatever comes our way in the future.”

Bill Gadala, CFO of Vera Security, brings the importance of this empathy to the forefront: “Without a larger dose of empathy, you risk alienating people, which hurts them and others in the team, as well as yourself.”

This is also a fundamental tenet for Scott Baxter, president and CEO of Kontoor Brands. Mr. Baxter said: “You never really know what’s going on in someone’s life. Each day also reveals new headlines about the consequences of systemic racism and inequities, which is deeply troubling.”

Related: The COVID-19 Impact on Executive Search

“As leaders, we need to shift our focus toward empathy now and in the future,” Mr. Layton said

Become a Great Pandemic-Era Leader

“One thing is clear from all of these leaders: long gone are the days of one-note leadership,” said Mr. Layton. “Leaders today, especially during a pandemic, must be multifaceted in ways we didn’t need to be in years past.”

Doug Gladstone, managing director of Comhar Partners, said now is a time for leaders to show a broad range of attributes. “A good leader needs to step up on multiple fronts not only focusing on driving his/her company’s bottom line, but they now need to focus equally on their employee’s immediate needs and stay current on economic changes and how such could impact their overall business operations,” he said.

“As we continue to run our companies and lead our teams, don’t forget about what it means to be a good leader in today’s world, during a time of societal unrest, a global health pandemic, and political uncertainty,” said Mr. O’Malley.

As leaders, individuals must continue to be action-oriented, empathetic, communicative and agile, said Mr. Layton. “If we can bring all these key skills into our roles each day,” he said, “we can bring unity and purpose to a world that’s divisive and ever-changing.

Related: Talent Acquisition Success Factors in the Age of COVID-19

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor  – Hunt Scanlon Media

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