The following is a contributor blog from CDR Certified Coach, Ben Colvin. Ben is the President of Coaching Works, NYC and has over 25 years of experience as a corporate business executive. His mission is to combine his business lens with coaching certifications and evidence-based tools to deliver a singular perspective that his clients are able to apply in a transferable, scalable and sustainable way. Thank you, Ben, for your unique insight into this topic! 

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses were facing a challenge. Adapt to meet the evolving demands of a rapidly changing, global environment, or stay the course and run the risk of getting left behind. If you asked me a few months ago, I would have said a three-to-five-year timeline was both realistic and aggressive for most companies to make and implement their choice.

Then, COVID-19 added an accelerant none of us saw coming. In the span of a few months, we have significantly changed the way we work. Companies must still navigate a changing, uncertain environment, but the pandemic adds an extra degree of difficulty along with a heightened sense of urgency. Right now, as businesses move from crisis stage to defining their new normal, it’s the ideal time to rethink the attributes leaders need now – and how to both identify and prepare leadership talent.

The future is now

Many companies rely on belief-based and qualitative talent management processes and performance reviews to uncover potential leaders. The approach leads to lopsided career progression, with women and people of color left behind in terms of leadership development and management opportunities.

The evidence is compelling. Despite diversity initiatives and good intentions, the proportion of women, women of color, and men of color declines dramatically as people progress through the management ranks. Instead, leadership pipelines are still producing white male leaders nearly 70 percent of the time.

With the advent of a “new normal,” the need for diversity in leadership is even more critical. Leaders will be called on to inspire a widely dispersed workforce that’s navigating prolonged work-from-home situations, childcare challenges, and increased isolation. Different leadership skills, such as resiliency, adaptability, and sensitivity, will need to be brought to the fore.

As a result, there’s an increased need to factor evidence-based insights into organizational design changes, leadership selection and development, and talent management overall.


Post-COVID: The value of empirical assessments

Tackling the new business imperatives means finding and developing different skills throughout your organization. Often, the adaptive leaders you’re looking for are already there but may be missed by business-as-usual qualitative assessments.

To develop current leaders, uncover the hidden talents within the organization, or to assess external candidates, today’s reality requires adding empirical measurements of innate behavioral and leadership characteristics. Crisis situations, like COVID-19, require organizations to pivot, sometimes overnight. Having both qualitative and quantitative tools to call upon guides strategic decisions, smooths out shifts in direction, and enables success.

In my practice, I recommend that clients supplement qualitative elements like job descriptions and 360s with the CDR 3-D Leadership Behavioral Characteristic Assessment. By using the CDR as an objective tool, I’m able to help clients create bespoke profiles for specific leadership roles. The added layer of empirical evidence broadens the consideration pool while reducing unconscious bias and cloning.

While the current environment presents new challenges, it’s not about identifying a one-size-fits-all leadership profile. Different roles will still require different skills and characteristics for success. Here’s an example that’s particularly appropriate right now. Women leaders tend to excel at interpersonal communication and employee management. Their male counterparts rely more on coordination and control management. Organizations benefit when there’s a diverse mix of styles. Understanding the dynamics at play – and where there are gaps – can help companies leverage their leadership talent effectively.

More importantly, the addition of evidence-based insights also identifies potential risks or de-railers that can be addressed through individualized development plans combined with broader leadership training. For example, in today’s business environment, my clients are seeking to dial up their understanding of a leader’s skills in areas such as:

  • Adjustment: Assessing how a leader reacts under pressure – calm, self-assured, and steady – is critical in times of uncertainty.
  • Interpersonal Sensitivity: Understanding a leader’s interpersonal skills and how perceptive they are about the needs of others is vital, especially when you can identify and address gaps among current leadership.
  • Inquisitive: Curiosity is imperative in the new normal. CDR assessments can help leaders understand their ability to be curious and have idea fluency, so they’re able to go deeper to better understand the highly personal challenges of their team as well as bring creativity to solving business challenges in both the short- and long-term.

The other benefit of adding an empirical assessment tool that resonates for companies navigating the implications of the pandemic is the ability to better understand what motivates leaders. In our new normal, it’s helpful to recognize those who are driven by humanitarian efforts as they may be more motivated to rise to the occasion, compared with others who are driven by fame and feedback or safety and security. All will play a role, but it may be vastly different than before.

In a world full of uncertainty, having solid objective insights can equip current and future leaders – and your company – with the skills they’ll need to adapt and succeed. And, if you’re already leveraging empirical tools, optimize them by relooking at them through a new COVID-19-inspired lens.



Ben Colvin, CPCC, ACC

President, Coaching Works NYC