Leadership for a new era

A new Korn Ferry report shows how great leaders are adapting to the challenges of the post-pandemic world.

Stephen Lams

VP, Data and Analytics, Korn Ferry Institute

Yu-Ann Wang

Data Scientist, Korn Ferry Institute

Veronica Ge

Director, Analytics Product Innovation, Korn Ferry Institute

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a fundamental—and arguably, permanent—effect on how, when and where work gets done.

Since the onset of the outbreak, we've seen seismic impacts on supply chains, intensifying geopolitical conflicts disrupting global businesses, increased frequency and magnitude of climate events, and a growing focus on sustainability. At the same time, a growing chorus of employees and consumers has started to demand companies foster more caring, inclusive, and flexible work environments, pressing leaders to focus on their purpose rather than maximizing the bottom line.

What’s more, a recent survey found that people look to businesses more than governments to address the world’s most pressing issues—from the energy crisis to workforce reskilling. In an effort to understand what this post-pandemic world means for today’s leaders, the Korn Ferry Institute, along with its partners at the Drucker Institute, set out to discover which qualities CEOs will need to drive success in this new era. “Given the turbulence of the last couple of years, we felt now would be a great time to dig into our wealth of assessment data to explore what insights we might uncover about how the best leaders are dealing with today’s challenges,” says Veronica Ge, director of analytics product innovation at the Korn Ferry Institute, Korn Ferry’s research arm.

In its new paper, Leadership for a new era, the Korn Ferry Institute combed through its large database of leadership competencies, traits, and drivers to identify which qualities most positively correlate with Drucker’s latest rankings of corporate effectiveness—the foundation for the Management Top 250, published in partnership with the Wall Street Journal. And what they’ve found is that, while the key characteristics of great executives remain consistent over the last three years, the behaviors they now need to lead through crisis have begun to shift.

A follow-up to the 2020 studyLeadership for a new era explains how leaders of the best-performing companies still exhibit many of the same underlying traits and drivers as they did before the pandemic, with the need for leadership agility remaining critical. But the study also reveals that the competencies most important to driving long-term success have shifted. In today’s world, leaders now need to take a worldview, build meaningful relationships, gain buy-in, and expect the unexpected at all times.

"Peter Drucker taught us that managing in turbulent times means starting out with the question, ‘What is the world really like?,’ rather than with assertions and assumptions that made sense only a few years ago,” says Rick Wartzman, head of the Drucker Institute’s KH Moon Center for a Functioning Society. “Korn Ferry's latest research shows that leaders of the best-managed companies are doing just that, adjusting their behaviors to fit the realities brought on by the pandemic."

Indeed, the shift suggests an evolving approach for navigating the new global business landscape, where the sudden move to remote work has caused leaders to rethink how we connect and build relationships. And other companies hoping to emulate highly effective organizations will do well to take a hard look at their own leadership capabilities. “This study demonstrates that leadership is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” says Stephen Lams, Korn Ferry Institute’s vice president of data and analytics. “The best leaders adapt to the world and the context around them, adjusting their leadership style and behaviors for maximum impact on their team, their organization and society."


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