Leaders building psychological safety will thrive post-pandemic: new report

18 January 2021
87% of survey respondents said COVID-19 profoundly impacted business
Leaders need greater resilience and faster decision-making processes to ensure business longevity, according to a new report by the CEMS Global Alliance, of which the University of Sydney Business School is a member.

The new report draws from findings of a survey of 1,711 business leaders and young professionals, making recommendations including:

  1. Leaders must build psychological safety for people to thrive under pressure.
  2. Business educators must reframe learning, for example, mentor rather than lecture.
  3. Young professionals must take ownership of their own paths and adopt an innovative mindset.

Redefining leadership post-COVID

While the majority of survey respondents reported the pandemic had profoundly impacted their business and teams (87 percent), there was no consensus on whether this change would be positive or negative. Over half of respondents said there will be both positive and negative changes, 26 percent said the impact would be mainly negative and only 19 percent said it would be mainly positive. 

“We have seen from the experiences of our global community that COVID-19 has accelerated change in attitudes, expectations and mindsets; a shift from the rigid structure and systems that have long characterised organisations and models of leadership to something more flexible, open and agile. In short, we are seeing a shift to something that feels more human. And we are seeing it in real time,” Professor Greg Whitwell, CEMS Chair and Dean of the University of Sydney Business School said.

“The pandemic has given leaders a rare opportunity to question the status quo, and to redefine business-as-usual. It has laid bare deficiencies in the more traditional ways of thinking about leadership and about education, revealing a certain structural rigidity.”

Permanent change to markets and ways of working

When asked how far into the future the crisis will impact business operations internationally, over a quarter of those surveyed (28 percent) said their company’s operations will change permanently as a result of the pandemic.

While the pandemic has been devastating for many, it has also given us a lens through which to assess global operations.
Professor Greg Whitwell, Business School Dean and Chair of CEMS

The uncertainty of international border closures has led to a focus on local supply chains. Among the report findings is a rebalancing of global and local supply chains, and encouragement of remote and flexible work arrangements.

“While the pandemic has been devastating for many, it has also given us a lens through which to assess global operations, to take stock of the questions that too often elude leaders caught up in the day-to-day pressures,” Professor Whitwell 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.”

About the Leadership in a Post-COVID World report

Recommendations from the report were drawn from an in-depth survey of 1,711 alumni and CEMS corporate partners from 70 countries. Survey respondents came from a very broad diversity of industries and sectors including consulting, technology, financial services and consumer goods.

Of the respondents from 34 countries:

  • 82 percent were managers
  • 55 percent were senior executives
  • 11 percent were C-suite, owners or board members.

In the second stage of the project, the findings were further explored through a panel discussion and a series of interviews with leaders from CEMS corporate partners, business schools, and students looking to join the job market in the near future. 

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