What qualities will great leaders need in 2021?

It has been a chaotic year for us all in many differing ways, with the challenges faced by business leaders never so pronounced, or widely experienced.  As 2020 draws to a close, we take a look at what has changed when it comes to leadership, highlighting the skills and qualities we believe successful leaders will be utilising further during 2021.

Building trust

Our top prediction for 2021 is that successful leadership will be shaped by the ability of leaders to build trust.  Like the incoming Biden administration in the USA, creating trust and maintaining it should be the priority for all business leaders planning their approach for the new year.  With a month left of 2020, we are recommending clients take time out for reflection and consider the opportunities to improve connections with their teams, or celebrate the successes they have had, either individually or as a group.

As an experienced leader, it can be easy to forget the impact we have in motivating the wider team. Having observed various approaches to building trust, our advice is that it’s important to visibly express thanks for peoples contribution to the business, or show empathy and understanding of their situations if its challenging. By hearing first hand the value you have placed on their contribution this year, will garner their trust and secure their long-term support and respect.    

Customers will equally be looking to reaffirm the trust they are placing in businesses, as they continue engaging with them. Those leaders who have had a clear plan and communicated it well to customers, been open and honest about what they do and don’t know or transparent about the approach they are taking, have been the ones who have stood out over the last year. This has been particularly true of leaders in the travel industry, a sector which has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. Where brands have invested in PR to tell their story, they have continued to build engagement and gained new customers, a topic Lynsey recently explored in her blog for The Sussex Collaborative.

Igniting action

We are all familiar with the expectation to lead by example, which let’s be honest took a lot of energy at certain points this year!

The ability to inspire others through entrepreneurial spirit like Joe Wickes lockdown workouts achieved, entertaining kids across the country whilst raising £580,000 for the NHS, or meeting challenges head-on as Jacinda Ardern the Prime Minister of New Zealand did in her fast response to COVID-19, or by offering clarity on the approach to solutions for issues being faced as David Attenborough has done for climate change, are all great examples of leading from the front. 

We believe truly great leaders are proactive in offering consistent and visible prompts for teams to emulate. When done consistently as an authentic display of personal values, it goes along way to strengthen a team’s contribution to the overall business success, something we’ll all be striving for in 2021.

Constantly improving

Investment in continual Leadership development, whilst a cost in both time and resources needs in our opinion to remain high up on the corporate agenda, in the same way digital transformation remains a consistent and evolving business requirement.   

The Insights Discovery Personal Profile is one tool we recommend as a means to help explain how we prefer to think and act. Using that knowledge, individuals can increase self-awareness, build better relationships, lead people effectively and work more harmoniously and productively in teams. Geoff is a licensed practitioner of the tool and has more information in his website.

We recently covered the topic of personal development in an episode of the 4am club. Geoff and Ali discussed how being a leader can be lonely at times and that by creating a network of trusted advisors outside the organisation, can both give the opportunity to develop new skills or provide critical friends to be a sounding board for new ideas, problem solving or offer an alternative viewpoint.

Being transparent

As we continue to manage ongoing pandemic related change and uncertainty in our personal lives for the foreseeable future, it’s key that leaders are not adding to the pressure their staff are feeling. One of the most valuable qualities the senior management team can demonstrate, is in our opinion taking an open and honest approach to sharing information with both customers and staff.

Being proactive in asking team members what they need is equally important and will help to minimise burn out, and ensure staff engagement remains high.  Although remote teams and virtual teamworking is making it much harder to spot the signs of stress in our team members, leaders retain the responsibility to manage this.  So being aware of the top 5 reasons for burnout as identified by Gallup will help leaders spot the signs early and be proactive to adjust their approach:

  1. Unfair treatment at work
  2. Unmanageable workload
  3. Lack of role clarity
  4. Lack of communication and support from their manager
  5. Unreasonable time pressure

Ali Daymond and the team at Adastra HR recently considered the impact of stress on and approach to wellbeing in the workplace in their useful blog “Mindfulness an HR tool for better wellbeing”

Planning for scenario’s

Many leaders will now have experienced what may be one of the greatest challenges of their careers, having had to adapt to multiple versions of restrictions on trading, managing teams or delivering products & services. 

Change is going to be a constant for a while longer with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and looming reality of Brexit, being the leadership priorities for the first half of the new year.  This knowledge of the need to stay on top of restrictions and monitor trends to inform scenario planning is a no brainer, so the final month of 2020 should be about planning and laying the foundations for the coming year. 

The following checklist of December priorities shared by Nicky includes:

  • Being clear on your plan for marketing activity and the message you want this to deliver to past & future customers?
  • What business processes and policies still need to be updated or renewed to improve efficiency or remove team frustrations?
  • Do you need to develop new products to meet emerging needs of your customers?
  • What are your contingency plans around funding and costs if there is a new need to adapt to unknown changes?
  • How will you further adapt to the shift towards digital automation and virtual experiences to enhance your customer proposition?

Building back better

Whether your experience as leader in 2020 has been on the survive or thrive side of the fence, there are inevitably longer term benefits which will have come out of this crazy year. 

Across the members of The Sussex Collaborative, the feedback we are receiving from business leaders is that their need to work leaner, smarter and build stronger foundations, has led to a mind shift to factor in the longer-term sustainability of all investments and activities. Karen particularly has been focused heavily on building sustainable financial models and strategic scenario mapping with her clients, to ensure their financial planning covers a range of “What if’s”.

In the context of building teams, our recommendation is that when the opportunity comes to grow and build your team, do so on the basis that you have taken the time to review your approach to workplace management, recruitment and how you attract talent. There is a huge pool of highly qualified talented people available for work, who have the proven experience to help accelerate your business growth faster, if you are willing to invest.  

Recognising people’s values and needs will have changed over the last 9 months, whether that’s from the flexibility of home working, being furloughed or supporting extended family, shouldn’t be overlooked.  We’ll all be starting 2021 with a different outlook on what work life balance means to us and an expectation this will be mirrored in our ongoing working lives. 

Sussex Collaborative member Lucy Tarrant, is a great example of a leader who has already taken great strides in this with an successful approach to the running of Cognitive Law. She centres the culture on the ethos of reclaiming control over her work life balance, which you can read more about here

In conclusion

It has been a year like no other, and we have been hugely impressed by all of our clients energy, resilience and passion in leading their business through to this point in the year and look forward to supporting them build on their achievements further in 2021. As a group of accomplished professionals, the members of The Sussex Collaborative are able to offer a broad range of leadership skills and can act as a plug in senior managers on an individual or collective basis acting as a trusted member of your team.