Leadership Development Post Pandemic

What will be the lasting impact of the Pandemic on leadership development?

The Pandemic is finally moving closer to its end and whilst there remains a great deal of uncertainty about what the post-pandemic future holds. The certainty about the continuation of change is a factor that remains unchallenged.

And it’s leaders themselves who have sought to offer insights and predictions into what the future of work will look like, following 18 months of living and working through a global Pandemic. In addition to leading the navigation through what has undoubtedly been a period of challenging unchartered territory. 

Yet it’s the area of leadership development and what will now be required to contend with the aftermath of the pandemic and the unpredictable future of work continuing to unfold that has been of interest to HR thought leaders such as Dave Ulrich.

Leadership curiosity or the ability to explore options and ask good questions may be more important than total clarity in an unknowable normal

The recent exploration of this topic by Mr Ulrich for HRD connect acknowledged the ‘unknowable future’ that leaders now face and how this factor will contribute to forward looking leadership development. Sought to address the challenges, but also the opportunities for leadership development.

What Leadership Development Does

The ongoing development of leaders in all organisations is vital for the continuing success of both people and operation. The practice specifically refers to activities that improve the skills, abilities and confidence of leaders. 

And whilst programmes can differ significantly in their design, complexity, cost and style of teaching. Coaching and mentoring are two typical and universal forms of development often used to develop existing and future leaders. 

The aim of having a leadership development programme in your organisation is to aid succession planning by supporting those who have the high potential and the capability to become high-caliber leaders. 

High-potential and high-performers are typically those that are identified for leadership development programmes, which may take place over a longer term whilst also being broader than programmes that focus on specific timeframes or end goals. 

But how will the post-pandemic era shape how these programmes are designed and delivered? And what new demands will be placed on leadership that will inevitably contribute to these changes? 

Post-Pandemic Leadership

Harvard Business Review has recently discussed what it describes as being the ‘post pandemic leadership paradox’ It’s this very paradox that will determine the key changes to the ways in which leadership will now need to evolve to meet the continued demands of an uncertain future. 

To succeed in the post-pandemic era, leaders need new skills and capabilities, leaders must be proficient across a wide set of paradoxical characteristics

As a result, it is predicted that there will be a number of key characteristics that post-pandemic leadership will need to embrace to be successful in their pursuit of leading people well these include: 

Being a Strategic Executor

This will involve the need to be highly strategic and almost visionary in the ability to step back from the day to day to predict where the organisation and indeed wider world is headed. The critical need to understand how value can be created in ways that are different from what is done today, whilst also mapping out a position of influence for themselves in the company. 

Humility in leadership

Having the humility to acknowledge that they may not have all of the answers or know everything. Accompanied by the self assuredness to bring others on board who not only compliment the gaps in their respective knowledge, but who also have potentially very different skills, backgrounds, and capabilities. The humility factor will see those with this characteristic being highly inclusive, great listeners and well versed with new technologies. 

Human First, Tech-Savvy

Technology is firmly front and centre for all organisations, the dependencies on digital communications and tech for operational efficiency can no longer be considered as belonging to the tech department alone. Every leader will need to understand what technology can do for the company and how it will do this. But at the same time this knowledge needs to be finely balanced with understanding and caring about people. Helping them to also engage with the technology and also contemplating the impact this will have on the lives of the organisations people and how they will work. 

Leadership Innovator

Leaders will need to have the increasing ability to be comfortable with trying and possibly failing. Innovating for new ideas, but at the same time having those ideas not work out. All this experimentation and innovation must not be unbound and it must operate consistently alongside the company’s strategy and overall purpose. 

Politicians With High Integrity

Negotiating, forming coalitions, partnerships, whilst also overcoming resistance will be an increasingly valuable and essential leadership capability. Yet it’s the additional component of integrity that will be central to responding to and managing what will be an upwardly increased level of regulatory scrutiny and data-driven economies. These values are not those that can be coded into an algorithm, they are entirely humanistic qualities that leaders of the post-pandemic must possess. 

Global & Local Mindset

Leaders will be required to think and engage globally. However, with it being the age of digital leaders will also need to be attuned to and responsive to the needs and preferences of individual customers, local communities and inner ecosystems they operate within. Customers, partners, but also institutions will expect companies and their leadership to be responsive to their specific needs, whilst also adopting a locally conscious mindset.

The Impact on Leadership Development

The changes to lives and businesses brought about by the pandemic will have an undoubted lasting impact on organisations and their leaders for some considerable time to come. 

However, it’s the predicted changes to what leaders will need to embody that will shape the way leadership development unfolds in the post-pandemic future. 

Factors such as remote and distributed working will see rising and existing leaders having to think more strategically about how they build and lead cohesive, collaborative teams remotely. A return to traditional office working may resume in some form, but it’s unlikely to return to the 9-5 workday of the past. This factor will present fresh challenges for those who go on to lead. 

Once it’s possible to reopen offices, factories and distribution centers, management teams will face the challenge of keeping them safe

Recruiting talent, who in turn will become those deployed to leadership development programmes in the future will be more challenging to attract, retain and engage in the organisational culture, which will by its very nature be more fragmented through its distribution. How to overcome the fragmentation will be the focus of many leaders as they develop upwardly. 

As such, those designing future leadership development programmes will do well to also consider how to support effective and consistent communication as programmes unfold in the remote organisation. 

Yey it will also be necessary to facilitate a culture of strong interpersonal & genuine relationships for leaders on their development journey, as people within the organisation will prioritise wanting to feel genuinely supported and heard. Traits that leaders must also seek to possess. 

A further impact to leadership development will be factoring in how to mentor, coach and develop those highlighted for succession whilst also having a keen awareness on the need for agility and the ability that leaders must have in being able to interpret and prepare for changes that are yet to happen. Enabling swift-moving, targeted change will be possible by viewing a business through a long-term lens. This skill will be an essential requirement of the leadership development tool kit.

Bringing It All Together

Leadership development programmes have historically had to adapt to the demands of the moment. Perhaps though it’s now more than ever before that those demands brought about by the pandemic will require leaders of the future to embrace new skills that will be for the betterment of the organisations they go on to lead. 

As Dave Ulrich put it himself in his analysis of future leadership development, “to become effective, leaders in this unknowable normal need to move beyond solving puzzles to exploring mysteries by being curious.”  It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for future leaders to embrace their curiosity and the challenges they will overcome. 


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Written By

Jade Taryn Graham

Jade is the founder & CEO of Inspired Talent.co a people & talent consultancy working with the most innovative early stage companies worldwide. Founder & CCO of Inspired Talent Media Ltd and contributing writer for Sage HR where Jade writes about people, leadership, work/life balance and change.