Top Seven Leadership Development Challenges Post-COVID

June 29, 2022

Stephanie Neal

How companies shifted their top leadership development challenges to thrive in the new workplace.

three arrows, one green, one yellow, one purple, all coming out of coronaviruses, advancing toward the sky at varying rates, each with an illustration of a woman or man business professional on the tip to show this blog post is about the top leadership development challenges companies are facing post-covid

The world of work has changed for good. At first, we thought the changes to our work lives brought on by the pandemic would be temporary. But now it’s clear that they are here to stay. Leaders must accept these challenges head-on. And that means considering a new set of top leadership development challenges.

We conducted a survey with business and HR leaders from more than 100 companies about their top priorities to recover from the pandemic. The results revealed that leadership development is at the top of the list.

Nearly 75% of respondents said they are prioritizing development because their leaders will need different skills to navigate recovery and thrive in the future.

If your organization is ready to embrace changes in the workplace, here are the top seven leadership development challenges to focus on right now:

1. Leading Remote Teams

Leaders are on the front lines leading remote teams. But most organizations weren’t prepared for the abrupt change to virtual to become permanent in many cases.

In our webinar with leading industry analyst Josh Bersin, we discussed how leaders at every level may be in virtual leadership roles for the first time. And it’s a major challenge, especially to maintain for the long term. Leaders need help connecting with, engaging, and retaining the people who report to them. Many may struggle to keep a pulse on how their team members are feeling.

Companies need to provide new tools to help leaders reinforce their communication and coaching skills. Improving these skills will make a huge difference in engaging and retaining employees through this crisis and beyond.

2. Creating a Better Virtual Experience

The shift to remote work is also driving companies to seek out and purchase new virtual tools for learning. In our survey, 97% of companies said they are either now using virtual classroom training or are actively looking to buy it for their leaders. This trend will likely continue for the long term.

As companies perfect their approach to virtual learning, they will likely bound ahead. After all, it’s a big opportunity to create a consistent leadership training experience anywhere in the world, and without travel expenses.

3. Making Learning Relevant

Our ongoing impact research has consistently shown that learning relevance is key. Otherwise, development doesn't stick. Leaders need to connect what they learn to the challenges they face on the job.

Relevance is especially important as leaders are overwhelmed with so much information. Thus, they are more likely to take advantage of professional development opportunities when they can directly see the effect on their job.

Companies can reinforce this by clearly communicating how development is valuable to career growth. Furthermore, they should show development is valued by senior leaders, and a critical part of their business strategy.

4. Prioritizing Flexibility to Drive Retention

Just as employees navigate major changes to their work lives, they likely continue to face multiple challenges at home. As employees juggle care for their children and elderly parents, it’s crucial that leadership development activities are flexible.

In part, this is why so many companies are turning to virtual learning options. This trend is consistent even in regions where workforces are co-located and COVID-19 transmission has remained low. In addition to making learning structures more flexible, companies should reinforce that leaders be more adaptable for their teams to alleviate burnout and encourage retention.

5. Adapting to Technology

Digital transformation isn’t new. But for most companies, the pandemic accelerated these changes.

As companies deploy new technologies for leadership development, leaders and businesses will both benefit. By learning new tools and the broader technology landscape, leaders can better understand and identify new opportunities for technology to drive their transformation. And that can quickly turn into major new business opportunities.

6. Reinforcing Empathy

Given the pressures that everyone in the workforce is facing, empathy is a more important leadership skill than ever.

Leaders who listen and respond with empathy are better able to connect with their employees and make them feel understood. Our ongoing global research shows that empathetic leaders are also far more likely to have engaged teams and to retain talent.

7. Driving Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is always a valuable outcome for companies. But 79% of business leaders said it’s even more important as a result of the pandemic. Leadership development programs can support the essential role that leaders play in driving better engagement, and demonstrate to their employees that it’s a great place to work.

Addressing the Top Leadership Development Challenges

The world is changing incredibly fast before our eyes, and leaders need support to keep up. Your best chance of success moving forward will be to equip people with the leadership skills to handle the tough changes.

This list is just a start. You don't have to do everything at once. Companies that do even a few of these things to address their top leadership development challenges will put themselves in a better position for success, now and in the future.

To learn more, download the Ultimate Guide to Leadership Development.

Stephanie Neal is director of the Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research (CABER). She leads market and trend research focused on leadership and business innovation, and is general manager and lead author of DDI's Global Leadership Forecast.

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