2020 was a year that required leaders to focus on immediate needs, innovate new approaches to work, and pivot direction time and time again just to survive. And while there is still much speculation about what the “new normal” will look like, there is little doubt that change will be ever present.
So, how can leaders best shift the focus from surviving to thriving in an environment of continuing challenge and change? The answer is to leverage lessons learned while navigating the uncertainty created by the pandemic. From these experiences, some trends have started to emerge. These trends provide insights and suggest six tips to become a more effective leader - regardless of level, team size, industry, or role – in a new era of work.
1. Move with agility
The best leaders understand the fundamentals of leadership, yet make the role their own by leveraging their self-awareness, an appreciation for purpose, and an understanding of context. They monitor and understand the business landscape and tailor their response to the needs and priorities of the moment. These leaders know there is no singular way to lead effectively and that using the right approach at the right time is what best predicts success.
2. Reconsider possibilities
To be effective in today’s world, leaders must think in terms of options and scenarios instead of a singular strategy or approach. They should question assumptions, ask new questions, and rethink the fundamentals. It is important to view challenges with a fresh perspective and mine experiences for insights, as well as to let go of old habits and proven routines that are outdated and may interfere with their leadership effectiveness.
3. Act with compassion
Leaders and employees alike are exhausted. Remote work brought colleagues into our homes, and work-life balance more directly into our consciousness. The lines were blurred between the traditional office and time at home, often separated by a physical commute in years past. Employees need and expect leaders to acknowledge the challenges they face and to care about their well-being. Leading with empathy is key to building relationships and to retaining employees.
4. Create purpose
Now more than ever, employees want to invest in something meaningful; they want purpose in their work. Sharing a mission statement is not enough. The best leaders refocus energy from what is done to why it is done – and they link the purpose to each individual’s role and responsibilities. Connecting the dots on these initiatives from creation to execution will further your employee engagement efforts and create a deeper investment in their day-to-day tasks.
5. Build connections
Communication and trust are central to engaging people’s hearts – which, in the workplace, is key to inspiring and retaining employees. Leaders can build connections with their teams by:
- Sharing information and expertise
- Communicating honestly
- Caring about others’ concerns, perspectives, and ideas
- Investing effort and energy in helping
- Following through with commitments and obligations
The best leaders take the time and make the effort to reach out to create a sense of togetherness by asking questions and listening wholeheartedly to the answers.
6. Embrace diversity
To effectively address the challenges of today, the most successful leaders include others in the decision-making process. They gather input and perspectives to identify robust and effective solutions. They leverage diverse individual talents to achieve together what could not be accomplished alone. Recognition that employees come from unique backgrounds and using that as an advantage is the first step toward developing an inclusive leadership philosophy.
Being a leader has always required an awareness of context and a breadth of skills. Many of the competencies important in the past are still important for the future. Yet the recent changes in the business landscape have provided an opportunity to reimagine leadership effectiveness in a new era of work. We need to perfect how we lead in order to better understand the possibilities that the future presents. Full steam ahead.