05th March 2021

Leadership Development in the time of Covid-19

Covid-19 has forced many of us to think differently about how we work and execute our priorities. Leadership Development remains critical for many organisations, maybe even more so with the changing nature of work.  Here’s what we’ve learnt over the last, pandemic-defined year.

More important than ever?

The pandemic has placed a priority on adaptability, reinforcing the adage than necessity is the mother of invention. For many people, we are doing things in a way that we couldn’t have accepted, or even imagined in 2019. The level of interpersonal interaction with one’s managers, peers and team members changed dramatically, virtually overnight in March 2020, and for most of our clients, it has not returned to how it was before the pandemic.

This dislocation of association has reshaped how we think about leadership; the ‘virtualisation’ of relationships is a new phenomenon for all of us, and leadership frameworks need to reflect this reality. Many of our clients, concerned that organisational development will stall while we wait for whatever the ‘new normal’ brings, are investing in leadership development to fill the void that people are feeling working in remote arrangements. In short, the need for leadership development may be more important than ever.

Remote delivery can be better than we imagined

It is easy to overlook the fortunate confluence of the pandemic and the video-technology that we now rely on daily. The exponential growth in our use of Teams, Zoom, Duo etc. has been driven as much by necessity as by their relatively seamless functionality. It is a great (and rare) example of technology working in service of humanity, allowing what could have been an even more challenging situation of lock-down to be a little more bearable.

“We successfully conducted a complete Emerging Leaders program in Asia; from assessment through development, over a nine-month period, without ever physically meeting any of the cohort”

Who would have conceived that we could deliver leadership development experiences across a video-link and still achieve engagement and a sense of transformation in the participants? While not a complete replacement for the interaction that can be achieved in person, the outcomes, in our view, are comparable to the more traditional “in the classroom” programs we once thought were the only way to go. We have all learnt new protocols of communication in the virtual world that serve the process well. In the post-pandemic world, we feel that video-based learning and development will remain a feature of leadership development; the benefits of speed, lower-cost and flexibility will ensure this.

Getting the components right

For the most part, the core constructs of Leadership Development program design remain largely unchanged. Ideally, programs still commence with an Assessment & Self-Discovery process, where participants get a measure on how they and others see themselves and get their mindset ready for learning. The broad move away from a once-off, multi-day experience to a more episodic, modular structure of learning happened a few years ago, and Covid-19 has only reinforced this design approach. The logistical ease and low-cost of getting a cohort together for a virtual half-day of learning is a great advantage that supports the design of a series of modules, over time, that can optimise the ability for behavioural change to occur.

This modular approach also complements on-the-job learning in what we call Applications, integrated seamlessly into the curriculum, with both the expectation and time for participants to apply new learnings and insights into real-life leadership situations before the next phase of learning.

Another key component, and one that has been heightened in Covid times, is coaching or mentoring support to participants, whether it’s provided by the client’s senior executives or the leadership training provider. This helps fill the void created by the lack of face-to-face engagement, providing an independent counsel to reinforce individual learning, give new insights and support participants through the personal learning and change process they are undertaking.

Lastly, a new component we have found to be effective in Covid times is the inclusion of a strategic project that participants, collaborating in small teams, need to work on together and develop. Ideally, it’s something that can add value to their business and requires them to put into practice skills and knowledge gained in the leadership development experience. A recent client we worked with had their participants present (virtually) their strategic project to the company’s entire executive team. It was a stimulating and fitting conclusion to their nine-month program and allowed the participants their ’15 minutes of fame’ and reinforced the company’s investment in their development.


So, while we can all see that Covid-19 has changed the nature of work, and in some ways forever, it’s also reminded us that some things don’t change. The essence of Leadership Development was transforming before Covid, and we’ve had to respond in ways that still delivers outcome, but in a fashion that meets the challenges of today.

We’re recently seeing an increase in organisations wanting to invest in Leadership Development, and we’re confident that instead of Covid being seen as a roadblock, it can facilitate new and effective ways of delivering great leadership learning experiences.

Glen Petersen

Glen Petersen

CEO at Generator Talent
With more than 35 years in business, working in large global businesses and consulting, Glen has a wise head set firmly on experienced shoulders – a good thing to have as Generator Talent’s founder and CEO. He is in demand by clients who value his pragmatic advice and ability to positively influence people and improve business outcomes.
Glen Petersen

Categories: Developing Leaders

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