Successful Leadership Development in the Post-COVID World


The pandemic has reshaped the world of work, creating new skills, challenges and threats. Leaders are now facing unprecedented uncertainty, yet with change comes opportunity. Hemsley Fraser has been developing engaging learning experiences focused on leadership and skills leaders need to succeed in a post-pandemic world.

So, what is needed for leadership to succeed in the ‘next normal’?

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Soft skills and leadership

Soft skills are often viewed in a different context compared to hard or technical skills. Some organisations assume that soft skills are harder to define, assess and develop. However, the pandemic has underlined the importance of soft skills and ensured they are now more critical than ever. Organisations have had to build resilience, learn to adapt quickly and with agility, and use initiative to stay flexible with changing employee and customer needs.

Indeed, the World Economic Forum found that 8 of the 10 top skills growing in importance are soft skills. These are:

  • Analytical thinking and innovation
  • Active learning and learning strategies
  • Complex problem solving
  • Critical thinking and analysis
  • Creativity, originality and initiative
  • Leadership and social influence
  • Resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility
  • Reasoning, problem-solving and ideation

Organisations must recognise the importance of these skills and focus on developing them. Agility allows organisations to be competitive in their industries, and resilience which, enables companies to handle change effectively. Soft skills are the foundation of a successful organisation, and focusing on them will allow organisations to survive and thrive now and in the future. 

Virtual leadership development programmes

Virtual learning was already being explored prior to the pandemic, but COVID-19 has accelerated its use and necessity. Yet, many organisations are still being challenged by executives who do not appreciate the value of virtual learning. Organisations must understand these key considerations and the best practices for providing virtual leadership programmes.

Effective virtual learning programmes need to punch through the noise of our digital lives. Many of us now spend 12 to 14 hours a day looking at screens, so virtual learning programmes must take learners away from the monotony of digital working. Keep it short and concise – for time-pressed leaders, introduce learning programmes offered in short chunks. Use clear communication and make the messaging strong; explain what’s in it for the learners, emphasising how the programme will help them.

Understandably, leaders don’t want to be trained or taught. Instead, they want to share knowledge with their peers and learn through common experiences. Effective virtual leadership development programmes tend to be facilitative, not learning-based, and by using a blended curriculum, you can serve the needs of all different types of learners. But, if leaders aren’t engaged with the learning, the programme will fail to have an impact.

Virtual learning done correctly can be beneficial for employees across all levels. Not only is it more cost-effective, but it allows leaders the chance to work with people from across the globe, imparting additional diversity, inclusion and belonging experiences. Virtual learning can be just as effective, if not more so, as face-to-face learning, but leaders and learners must be able to see the value. Get your stakeholders excited about the impact of virtual learning by getting them involved and showing the benefits.

Skills and reskilling

The World Economic Forum found that 50 per cent of employees will need to be reskilled by 2025. Organisations must consider how to create a virtual skilling and reskilling programme, which aligns with company goals for maximum impact.

The pandemic has permanently changed our working world, creating new challenges and opportunities for organisations. With that, there must be recognition of the skills needed to overcome challenges and seize opportunities. Learners must understand the importance of developing these skills, both in terms of how they will be impacted personally and the effect this can have on the wider goals of the organisation.

The most successful learning programmes will be those where the business has a seat at the table. Engaging your stakeholders early on will create a much more effective learning programme in the long term.

Agile learning

The ability to be flexible and responsive is essential for succeeding in a post-COVID-19 world. Leaders need to adapt quickly, in tune with their organisation’s changing needs, and organisations must be ready to offer that support, quickly altering learning programmes to fit new needs – as many have done throughout the last 12 months.

It’s important to remember that successful learning programmes don’t happen in isolation – organisations must think holistically when it comes to learning. Our ‘excite, engage, embed’ model, for example, was built to ensure maximum transformational power. Organisations need to excite both the stakeholders about the value of the learning and the learners about the learning. Once a programme starts, it needs to be engaging to achieve maximum impact. Learners must also understand the learning in context to enable them to embed new skills and behaviours into their work.

Pre-2020, it may have been assumed that the biggest driver for soft skill development would come from increased automation in the workplace. However, the events of the last year caused an acceleration in the need for new skills, as well as how these are developed. In order to build successful leadership development post-pandemic, organisations must focus not just on which skills to develop, but how these are cultivated.