What Great Leaders Will Do in 2021 and beyond
Just a year ago, I could not have imagined how drastic 2020 would have been. Covid-19 has changed our societies and business environments fundamentally in a matter of weeks. With an incredible speed, organizations had to adapt to a new Corona reality. Organizational and cultural transformation kicked in, by which hierarchies, command and control and silos have been challenged head on. Organizations of all sizes were disrupted by agile ways of working, despite questioning whether or not this would even be possible. And let’s be honest, it’s wishful thinking to believe, that corporate cultures we had pre Covid-19 will help us thrive in our new reality.
The question that remains though is, whether or not the need for change we’ve already witnessed in leadership will also remain going forward? There has been an immeasurable amount of literature and content on the topic of “What Makes a Great Leader in the New Normal”. I believe, that there are several leadership trends that are here to stay, simply because it’s the only way forward in this VUCA world to unite, inspire and provide a sense of direction and purpose.
Leadership is something that requires careful consideration. To delegate effectively, you will need to know how to inspire and trigger outstanding performance. Each employee has a set of very individual strengths and weaknesses that if managed correctly can trigger improved performance. Great leaders do not rely on generic and standardization, but know how to get the best from each and every one of their people. But being a great leader is more than just ensuring employee performance. It is about motivation and inspiration, creating a deeper purpose through meaningful and impactful work.
In response to 2020’s Coronavirus pandemic, we saw drastic shifts from organizations moving their workforces to remote and virtual working.
What would have possibly taken five to ten years to realize, the competitive nature of the economic landscape was sped up as a response to the novel pandemic.
In 2021 I believe we will continue to see businesses shift their resources. In other words, more organizations will go through their very own digital transformation journey. There will be no return to life as it was prior to Covid-19. The World has changed. This is the new normal, and as leaders, we must acknowledge this change and adapt accordingly. To do so, I believe leaders will need to leverage the following trends which were exacerbated in 2020.
Purpose Driven and Compassionate Communication
With the majority of employees working from home, remote working creates the need for a new and different leadership style designed beyond the limitations of the physical environment. Leadership needs to adapt to the digital realm, maintaining the motivation of teams in different locations, ensuring productivity, and mental wellbeing. Leaders need to communicate frequently, empathetic and authentic grounded in a strong purpose.
Despite the challenges, the current situation has also given room in bringing everyone closer together. Virtually entering your team members personal space etc., has made many of the interactions so much more personal. This crisis has reconfirmed the sheer value of kind, authentic and human communication, resulting in strengthened confidence in leadership.
Purpose has been gaining momentum amongst corporate agendas for some time now. However, leaders in 2021 will need to revisit, redefine, and activate their brand purpose. It became clear due to other factors on this list that purpose is key and forms the foundation for unifying, maintaining motivation, and setting a universal direction to all employees in uncertain times. By being purpose-driven, employees will have a better alignment to meaningful work, improve decision-making, and allow for a digital and remote community to flourish. Employees can be inspired, which is the golden egg when it comes to motivation.
The right purpose, system, and tech-stack become essential to a team’s ability to succeed in 2021.
Decentralisation and Empowerment
If we have learnt anything from 2020 it’s that remote working isn’t going anywhere. Working From Home is not new but was only really reserved for high-level management, consultants, or freelancers. Covid-19 changed all that. Since then, offices for the large-part have been vacant, employees now opting to work from home with both Government and Company backing.
This huge overhaul of decentralisation results in new challenges and opportunities. Most notably transferring centralised decision-making and empowerment to frontline teams and creating the urgently needed resilience through agility and rapid adaptability. Fueled by an ever changing landscape, decision-making power had to be moved to the frontlines, allowing leaders and functions who are closest to the situation to take the required decisions. In other words, we have seen empowerment of the frontline on a massive scale and leadership will have to continue to place emphasis on cross-disciplinary solutions to solve customer-centric problems. In this new context, for one leader to hold all the power, capability or competence to make decisions on behalf of others vastly under utilizes a team’s capacity, wisdom and ability to make a real impact and derails any attempt to be fast.
In order to thrive in this hybrid post-Covid working environment, organizations will need to focus on enabling radical collaboration within and across teams. In order to take decisions at a fast pace and close to the source, the ability to be radically collaborative — to have open, trusted and nimble collaboration as value, skill and behaviour across the entire organization; collaboration that dismantles “internal kingdoms”, that presents alternatives to commonly known beliefs and turns problems into possibilities — will become the competitive advantage of the post-Covid economy in driving innovative solutions. It is all about encouraging people to think and work outside of their comfort zone, to explore ideas, insights, and concepts fearlessly. I truly believe we will see much more cross-functional and transformational leadership going forward — which is effectively a core part of agile operating models.
As I have previously written on the topic of System-Thinkers — Leaders will seek to understand the interdependence between all societal aspects beyond just those that affect their business directly. Taking a systems view on an issue shifts the way we see the world, from a linear, structured ‘mechanical’ worldview to a dynamic, interconnected web of relationships and feedback loops. The pandemic has reminded us of the interdependence amongst different sections in society and the truly amazing things we can achieve collectively. Future leaders must be able to guide an eco-system of different stakeholders. Covid-19 made it crystal clear to businesses around the world, that value generation today can no longer be captured in rigid, linear processes and should be explored and tapped into via networked relationships. This notion of interconnectedness will improve choices and priorities due to a shift in thinking. It will be leaders that understand the interconnection between business and people and the greater system that will thrive. Those that concern themselves with short-term performance will face far greater challenges going forward.
To sum things up, if the leadership trends and momentum outlined above continue, then we may well see work, work/life balance, and places of work as something fundamentality different to that prior to 2020. What that might mean or look like is yet to be seen. Now is the time to display bold, innovative actions and make room for new collaborative dynamics to emerge across your organizations.