As joint leader of an independent agency, 2020 has meant sleepless nights. But it has also provided opportunities to inspire others and galvanise our team.
There never has been and there still won’t be perfect leaders in 2021. Throughout 2020, leaders have been pushed and tested in completely new ways. Moving forward it’s important to focus on our strengths as leaders, rather than our weaknesses. Reach out and work alongside other leaders to delegate some of your leadership tasks and remember that in areas you struggle, someone else will excel. It is a positive thing to learn from this. We as leaders are always learning. In an effort to continue our development and competence in this area, with my fellow Director, Chris Thurling, we recently took part in a two-day course run by the Institute of Directors entitled Leadership for Directors. Be open to new information and to adapting your preferred methods and means as necessary.
As a leader you are also a follower, likely following other leadership team members within the business. Demonstrate what it means to be a good follower through asking the right questions and having the right attitude towards a mutual goal. Praise and reward good following within the business and cultivate an atmosphere of support and trust. This will be crucial in tackling the upcoming year.
Staff will need to know what level of risk is acceptable within the business, especially coming out of the complex year that was 2020. It’s important that as a leader you communicate if risk and innovations are rewarded or if in the current period the aim is to avoid risk within the business.
We’re all motivated by different means: money, autonomy, flexibility etc. These motivations also change throughout a person’s life. Many of our motivations have changed in 2020 in particular as our lives have shifted emphasis. It’s vital that moving forward you have empathy with your team and ask individuals what it is that motivates them. Don’t waste your time offering flexibility to an individual who is focused on financial gain for example.
Sir Alex Ferguson got it spot on when he said this. Good leaders can inspire people simply by being around them, and often have an energy that people want to follow. This has increased in difficulty this year as a leader’s presence is significantly diluted on screen. The minute I as a leader press that ‘leave meeting’ button online, my presence has gone. This is an obstacle that needs to be overcome and one of the reasons I believe that, to misquote Mark Twain, the death of the office has been greatly exaggerated.
Understand, share and coach people through the change management process, and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ change curve, so they appreciate the emotional journey they are likely to go through when faced with change, especially big or unexpected sudden change. We might go through stages of shock, denial, then anger and frustration, through to uncertainty or depression, before starting to feel more positive with acceptance, problem solving and finally commitment. Following the difficult year that has been 2020 it is vital that as we move forward, we are able to do so together.
It’s important to see connections and relationships develop across different levels and skill sets within the business. This is why, in normal times, colleagues enjoyed lunches and trips to the pub together. These obviously haven’t happened in 2020 and businesses will need to figure out how to maintain social connections whilst the virus still rages and how to rebuild them post lockdown.
With communication, people want to understand WHY something has been decided – as much as possible, if you can share the raw or primary data that has influenced decisions, people will find it easier to contextualise and understand the reasons for decision-making. We’ve learned this year, when we haven’t felt the support of our team in a direction we propose, it might have been because we haven’t been transparent enough with what we were seeing, and why we thought the proposal was the best solution. Clear language is vital moving forward as the conversations that usually happen between staff in the office to provide clarity aren’t always happening remotely. Leadership styles are also contextual so bear in mind that what worked in the office may not work online. Perhaps a more direct approach will be needed. A greater emphasis on clarity will be necessary no matter what your chosen leadership style.
In 2020, we have seen more than ever before the truth in the saying “Repeat yourself so often, you get sick of hearing yourself. Only then will people begin to internalise what you’re saying”. With so many changes, and also real or perceived threats, people want to know what that means for them. Even if there is no-change, communicating that gives reassurance. This remains crucial as we move into the uncharted territory that is 2021.
Leadership principles go back centuries in history and remain relevant today. Moving forward, leaders will continue to build on these principles alongside an ever-evolving culture.
A lot has changed in 2020 but good leadership principles have not. Leaders have simply had to adapt.
This article first appeared on Business Chief.