The irony of modern leadership – a human touch in a virtual world

October 19, 2021

The pandemic created an irony which felt particularly cruel – at a stressful and uncertain time you were prevented from physically seeing many of the people you loved most. From a business perspective this meant that when employees needed more empathetic and human leaders, this had to be delivered through a computer screen.

Thankfully, with restrictions lifting more and more people are getting back into the office and able to meet colleagues in person. However, we’re re-entering a world of work that looks very different. Our recent Leadership in the Pandemic white paper highlighted two key trends; the importance of a more ‘human’ touch when it comes to leading teams post-pandemic and that we’re not all returning to normality, rather a reimagined world of work.

Virtual working became mainstream during the pandemic and a recent survey from the British Chambers of Commerce showed that 66% of businesses continue to offer some form of remote working.

This presents a unique and rather ironic challenge for leaders: giving a more human touch whilst managing a more fragmented workforce, often through a computer screen.

Firstly, it’s probably helpful to think about what being a more human leader actually means.  Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Rasmus Hougaard, Jacqueline Carter, and Vince Brewerton from research firm the Potential Project recognised that, as human beings we’re all “driven by basic needs for meaning, happiness, human connectedness, and a desire to contribute positively to others. And leaders that truly understand these needs, and lead in a way that enables these intrinsic motivations, have the keys to enable strong loyalty, engagement, and performance.” The piece goes on to highlight the importance of empathy and compassion for a human leader.

Of course, this isn’t new; this piece in HBR was written in 2018. But our survey highlighted that the pandemic has accelerated existing trends – meaning businesses which may have been considering implementing a more human leadership style now need to fast-track these plans.

The pandemic gave us a window into our colleagues’ home lives – we all knew who was home-schooling, who had vulnerable parents and who lived alone. For many, this created a very natural way to lead more humanly. The shared experience of working through a pandemic meant ‘small talk’ took on a new context and we all became more empathetic through shared experience, anxiety and fear.

The challenge for leaders now is thinking about how to continue this natural human touch, especially with hybrid working which raises difficulties when trying to create standardised policies towards flexible working environments. The focus now will be more on individualising the workplace so the experience is fit for everyone and their unique situations and ensuring the human touch isn’t lost in the process.

So how can Merryck help in this situation? We act as thought partners for senior executives, peer to peer, (we’ve all had C-Suite roles ourselves), working with their whole person to help them become better leaders to the benefit of all stakeholders. Considering the personal and cultural elements of leadership are just as important when we’re mentoring a leader as the strategic and operational. And we’re able to match leaders with mentors who’ve faced similar challenges and can provide insightful perspectives, rooted in experience. We too believe in the power of a human touch, and that’s why we offer unlimited access to the mentor once matched – having a sounding board in these times of change is also vitally important.

To read more about how the pandemic has impacted leadership styles, read our report here.


About Merryck & Co.

Merryck & Co. has been helping organisations for 20 years accelerate the impact of leadership. Merryck & Co. is a global firm of experienced CEOs and top business leaders who bring an operator’s lens to executive development. Their services focus on succession, senior leadership development, strategic enterprise transformation, and emerging leadership development. The firm’s clients include some of the most successful executives within the highest-performing companies in the world, boards of directors, and select teams of individuals.

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