According to new research by CEMS, people wished to see a balance between “traditional” leadership qualities and more humane ones, following the pandemic.

A new report by CEMS investigated how COVID-19 has impacted leadership and how leaders can continue to develop after the pandemic has ended.

When questioned, almost nine in 10 (87 per cent) reported that COVID-19 has had a profound impact on their business and teams. A quarter of these respondents (23 per cent) felt that these changes would become a permanent part of their working lives after the pandemic.

Overall, the report found that there were four main areas that had been impacted – new markets, new ways of communicating, new ways of working and new attitudes to working.

When the idea of new attitudes to working was explored further, the report showed that respondents believed that there would be a need in the future for faster decision-making and greater resilience from leaders.

Furthermore, there was also a significant expectation for leaders to exhibit not only traditional leadership qualities but also ‘softer’ ones.

As a result, there were significant rises shown in the ‘softer’ qualities categories. Before the pandemic, almost four in 10 (38 per cent) expected their leader to show empathy and emotional intelligence whereas, 43 per cent of people now expect to see this quality post-pandemic.

Additionally, before the pandemic, under a fifth (13 per cent) wanted leaders to show resilience. However, this number has almost tripled since (43 per cent), demonstrating this must be a trait that is shown after COVID-19.

Further research from the CEMS alliance showed that core humane skills remain essential in the new normal, qualities which include altruism and mindfulness. In addition, investment in human capital should be chief among leaders’ priorities to unlock organisational resilience and innovation in times of uncertainty.

In order to develop leadership skills, CEMS recommended the following:

  • Empower learners as co-creators in their own development – Articulate your purpose as a leader and your goals for your organisation. Identify your strengths. Determine one or two core areas for improvement and take concrete steps to address these. Encourage peer learning, mentoring and feedback to drive autonomy, introspection, and vicarious learning. Look for creative ways to build innovation and global mind-sets, by leveraging multinational industry networks more effectively.
  • Stay ahead of the innovation wave –  Make sure learning follows and reflects the global shift to online. Explore and invest in digitally empowered methodologies and techniques: blended, virtual, hybrid approaches and tools. Refocus expertise, talent, and resources in the digitisation of education to overcome challenges, stay connected, empower learners, and build future-fit aptitudes and attitudes.

Greg Whitwell, Chair of the CEMS Global Alliance, said:

These valuable insights from the collective global mindset of the CEMS community, can serve as the building blocks we need to construct our post-pandemic future successfully.

It is clear that traditional approaches to learning in large lecture theatres and leadership based on staid and inflexible ideas are dead. Leaders who respond to crises with creativity and agility, taking their customers and workforce along with them, are the ones who will thrive post-COVID-19.

The pandemic has given leaders a rare opportunity to question the status quo, and to redefine the business-as-usual approach.  It has laid bare deficiencies in the more traditional ways of thinking about leadership and about education, revealing a certain structural rigidity. As we consolidate our efforts to emerge from this crisis, it will be critical to review the valuable lessons it has offered and fully leverage the opportunity to rethink how we lead and how we educate our future leaders.

*This research was taken from CEMS report ‘CEMS Guide to Leadership in a post-COVID world’ which includes research which surveyed  1,711 CEMS Alumni and Corporate Partners.





Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.