Your Leadership Playbook for 2021

February 11, 2021 8 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

2020 has changed the world and work forever. Workplaces have transformed from traditional offices to home workspaces. The best leaders have embraced that is the sole constant in an ever-evolving global situation and eagerly pivoted, as necessary. Despite being one of the most tumultuous periods of disruptions, it is also a time of opportunity to future-proof your leaders and workforce.

Leadership often associated with titles demands more. Leaders who volunteer to venture into the unknown, withstand potential hardship before others and willingly make sacrifices for the greater good. Leaders who embrace change as an opportunity will help their people and business succeed. Reimagining your leadership approach is imperative to set you up powerfully for 2021 and beyond. Here is how to get started. 

Leading your own psychology

Learning how to lead your emotions, bring awareness of what happens when you react emotionally versus responding neutrally and how you review situations, where you became emotionally charged will better equip leaders to lead in 2021. Susan David, Ph.D., renowned psychologist, shares through her book Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life how leaders gain insight into their feelings about situations and use this knowledge to adapt, align their values and actions. They hold those emotions, thoughts, and behavior willingly with curiosity and compassion, detach from and observe thoughts to see them for what they are, embrace their core values as a compass to keep moving in the right direction and make small, deliberate tweaks to their mindset, motivation, and habits. Leaders can even tap into a quiz to obtain a free emotional agility report.   

Adopting techniques to bring balance

Every human beings’ psychology is different. A leadership toolbox must hold strategies for dealing with you. Getting high-quality advice on tough decisions that you make is useful from a psychological perspective as you engage people who have been through similarly challenging decisions. Externalizing your thoughts on paper by writing a detailed explanation of your current thinking creates distance from your psychology to make decisions swiftly. 

Racecar drivers are trained to focus on the road rather than a wall when taking corners of a track. When you focus on the wall, you will more likely drive right into it. If you place your energy into focusing on the road, you will follow the road. Leadership roles entail thousands of things that can go wrong. When you invest your energy in the wrong things, you will capsize your own thinking and role. Focus on where you are heading rather than what you hope to avoid. 

Flipping the workplace

The pandemic has normalized work from home. The context has changed, so how you manage your time and design your days around how you work, your priorities of what you are working on, and with whom you are working must be prioritized. Designing your day and culture for the new hybrid workplace is continuous. Whether it be defining the purpose of how people come together for meetings, who needs to be in the meeting, articulating an agenda, and what decisions need to be made, demands consideration. 

Encourage the development and meaningful conversations

Continuous feedback through regular check-ins, whether it be one-on-one meetings, 360 feedback, or group supervision, are tools that foster communication and drive engagement in virtual environments. Gallup has shown us that more engaged employees directly transform into higher-performing employees. Investment in developmental and training opportunities can drive engagement. Having accessible content available on-demand across various platforms supports real-world, real-time development, nurtures engagement and drives performance in a virtual world.

A culture of honest feedback, and leaders who model what makes a great leader, generate workspaces where people feel heard, valued, and respected. HR Leader Donna Morris shared that to lead regular check-ins effectively, managers needed to be trained on how to connect and talk with employees by engaging in role plays about what a positive manager-employee check-in looks like. Adopting a coaching approach involves having real conversations with frequent and honest feedback every week can result in employees being 2.7x more likely to be engaged at work

Walking in another person’s shoes

In today’s workplaces, people are experiencing all sorts of changes to their routines, lifestyles, and levels of stress. Practicing empathy in a virtual world and the workplace is a critical part of meaningful social interactions. It can increase people’s understanding of one another and inspire positive social behaviors such as volunteering. Adopting a virtual reality experience in your learning and development strategy can help people work through future disruptions. Forward-thinker leaders will explore how to adopt new and emerging technology to promote skills for the future of work and cross-collaboration.

Related: Humble Leadership: 5 Dimensions for a New Style of People Management

Nurture a sense of belonging, inclusion, and psychological safety

Inclusive leadership is a business reality, a business model for the future. It is how a company listens to its people and ensures that people feel it. Research shows that inclusive leadership can boost productivity and is strongly correlated to how an employee feels in the workplace.

Salesforce influences everyday workplace interactions through inclusive meetings, inclusive activities and authentic conversations. They took it one step further to build a module of inclusive leadership practices to support other professionals to grow in this domain. McDonald’s launched a “Better Together: gender Balance & Diversity Strategy” to include initiatives like ‘women in tech’ program for upskilling in , AI and senior leaders alongside  CEO Steve Easterbrook changed their profile pictures on by turning the McDonald arches upside down to reflect their commitment of awareness of unconscious bias and to overturning the gender status quo.

Unleashing employee’s capabilities

LinkedIn’s 2019 Workforce Learning Report highlighted how 94% of employees stated that they would stay at a company longer if it invested in helping them learn. Employees demand workplaces to coach, inform, and enroll them in programs based on job, skills, and experience level. Engaging teams in a ‘Feedback Friday’ by asking a few questions can help people understand what needs to be created or enabled for their team’s health, wellbeing, and performance. 

Related: 10 Popular Myths About Leadership and How to Overcome Them

Change readiness

In a dynamic, fast-paced world, leaders need to think about how quickly they can adapt to changes at an individual, team, and organizational level. Leaders need to understand their individual skills and capabilities and of their workforce. Change readiness involves enlisting and directing people’s energy into delivering great results no matter the new reality by sharing business information quickly and fluidly and without sugarcoating, moves people from passivity and resistance to accountable action. Leaders play a starring role in guiding employees towards a purpose. Moving from Is it necessary? Do we have to? to questions of “how will we do this? And how can we help?” Leaders can help people move from awareness to become drivers of change. 

View your employees as humans, not talent

issues do not discriminate and how you lead environments that create psychological safety, trust, and prioritize wellbeing, are critical right now. When organizations make mental health services more accessible, both employee and company performance can improve. By talking about mental health opening and taking significant action, leaders can destigmatize mental ill-health. 

EY launched a WeCare program to educate its people about mental health, encourage them to access necessary assistance and support others who may struggle. CEO of Earnout, Matthew Cooper, wrote a letter in Quartz stepping down from his position because of his mental health struggles resulting in seeking in-patient care. He consciously chose to make his mental wellbeing his priority.  

Related: 4 Leadership Sins to Avoid

Embracing the digital world

Online interventions, such as digital mental solutions, are active and growing. From telemedicine access with doctors to apps such as Calm and Headspace to help with meditation and sleep, organizational leaders lead with an open mind. Organizations are engaging services such as Ginger, an on-demand mental health service that ensures that all employees have access to trained behavioral health coaches, licensed therapists, or psychiatrists within hours online. Integrating online and digital services as part of your company ecosystem contributes to leaders providing the best care and opportunities for your people to bring their fullest potential to work. 

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