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In praise of COVID-19: discovering adaptive leadership in unprecedented times

Roland K. Yeo (University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia)

Strategic HR Review

ISSN: 1475-4398

Article publication date: 17 June 2021

Issue publication date: 11 August 2021




The purpose of this paper is to explore adaptive leadership behavior during a global health crisis in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. It discusses the characteristics of adaptive leadership and offers practical steps to help managers lead through tough times.


This paper is based on an in-depth study of a mid-sized multinational professional service firm where 25 frontline managers were interviewed. Individual stories about the challenges and opportunities of how these managers led their company out of ambiguity contribute to critical insights as discussed in this paper.


First, leading adaptively involves a fundamental acknowledgment of your vulnerabilities by turning them into a source of inner strength through the support of others. Second, it is important to harness collective wisdom to accelerate urgent and complex decision-making. Third, experimentation is key to breaking away from status quo and venturing into innovative practices. Fourth, following personal instincts while exercising objective judgment could give you the courage to think and act differently.


This paper offers firsthand insights into the mindsets and behaviors of practicing managers who spontaneously shared their deeper feelings and expectations of their leadership setbacks and foresight of what would be expected of the “new” normal in a post-pandemic era. The perspectives offered here provide a deeper dimension to the current understanding of adaptive leadership.



The author acknowledges the participation of 25 frontline managers to share their leadership experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Feedback from the editor and reviewers about this paper is also appreciated.


Yeo, R.K. (2021), "In praise of COVID-19: discovering adaptive leadership in unprecedented times", Strategic HR Review, Vol. 20 No. 3, pp. 102-108.



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