Woman speaks to colleagues via video conferencing at home.

Resilience and empathy vital for leaders post-COVID: global survey

30 July 2020
Teams communicating more often now than pre-COVID-19, survey finds
A global survey of over 1,700 professionals, including University of Sydney Business School alumni, has found corporate employees are more focused on communicating with their offshore colleagues than they were before the pandemic.

Respondents from 70 countries participated in the survey, which also saw a shift in the qualities employees are looking for in managers in the wake of the pandemic.

While the challenges of collaborating across time zones remain, effective leaders have proved adaptation is possible.
Professor Greg Whitwell, Business School Dean and Chair of CEMS

Resilience, empathy, cultural communication and cultural intelligence are some of the qualities that have become more important for leaders since the COVID-19 crisis began. 

Most survey respondents were alumni of the Master of Management (CEMS) programme and now in the workplace. 82 percent were in a management position and 11 percent said they were at the CEO/Board/company owner level.

Nearly a third (30 percent) stated virtual ways of working could have detrimental effects on their relationships with offshore colleagues.

The survey was conducted by CEMS (the global alliance in management education). The University of Sydney Business School is the only Australian member of the alliance.

Resilience key for business leaders

Respondents considered resilience, empathy and the ability to communicate as being more important since the crisis. The number of people who thought resilience was an important attribute almost tripled since the pandemic started.

Chair of CEMS and Dean of the Business School Professor Greg Whitwell said, “The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally disrupted ‘business as usual’ for many organisations. However, it has also presented an opportunity to reassess the qualities we value most.

The survey results echo a study conducted by Business School academics and published in the Australian Journal of Management last month, which examined the impact of working with technology on employees’ mental health.

Leadership qualities shifting during COVID-19

The CEMS survey saw strategic vision ranked as the most important leadership quality both pre- and post-crisis, declining 6 percentage points to 68 percent in July 2020.

Results-focus also dropped 9 percentage points (58 percent to 49 percent) indicating that business leaders may be judged on more than just the bottom line, at least in the short-term.

Executive Director of CEMS, Roland Siegers, said: “In the past, the traditional, leader-centred approach has been something concrete – a collection of skills that can be taught and learned. However this research backs up the idea that in fact, fluid human skills such as resilience, empathy, communication and cultural intelligence are key to making sure that global teams thrive during times of disruption.”

The survey is the first stage of a CEMS project examining the skills needed to thrive post-COVID-19.

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