2021 Leadership Challenges and How to Prepare

2020 was a challenging year for everyone, and as we enter 2021 it has left some lingering difficulties that leaders need to continue to address moving forwards. COVID-19 brought along a wave of unexpected obstacles from remote working and home schooling, to mental health, wellbeing and burnout. Suddenly, leaders had new responsibilities in order to look after their team whilst continuing to drive their business forward, stay afloat and do their day to day job.

With the vaccine rollout in progress, it’s obvious we are finally moving towards a healthier and more normal world, whatever that looks like now. Due to COVID-19 as well as many other factors, what is undoubtedly true is that the future of work has fundamentally changed. People’s expectations of the workplace have changed.

Leaders must adapt if they are hoping to engage, attract and hire, as well as retain, top talent and stay sustainable and profitable. Based on my own experiences and predictions, here are the five key challenges and trends that will impact the way we lead in 2021 and beyond.

Building Great Culture Remotely

The move to mandatory remote working in 2020 was the key disruptor for nearly every business I’ve spoken to, including our own. For us, going from a culture that was rooted in collaboration, engagement, and face-to-face engagement was a big learning curve, but like other businesses we quickly adapted. Zoom and Microsoft Teams became essential to our communication and making sure we could continue to work. However, communicating solely over digital software made it difficult to monitor people’s engagement and wellbeing.

In an office, it’s easy to identify when somebody is acting out of character, or when they aren’t participating in team chats or meetings. Online this is much more difficult, and it becomes easier for people to feel isolated. With remote working and flexible working a trend that’s likely to stay, it’s important that leaders take all this into account and be more aware of their team.

It’s also important to factor in the loss of general social time and conversation and to ensure your team are still engaging in non-work related chatter. You could suggest virtual coffee breaks, virtual lunches, team-building activities, or just having an open Slack/Teams channel for non-work related conversations. It’s vital to ensure your team members are not isolated and overworking. Associate Professor, Remi Ayoko, suggests that “managers will need to be more armed with compassion and empathy to manage employees who are working from home effectively.” And I agree.

Not everyone working from home is as lucky as others. Some work in an office whilst others have to work at the kitchen table opposite their partner who is also working from home. Some enjoy the peace and quiet at home, other’s have children to also look after. Some have plenty of space, some are living and working in one room. It’s so important to understand this, and let your team know you are there for them. Emotional intelligence in leaders is becoming increasingly important and is something leaders should definitely be looking to improve moving into 2021 and beyond.

Resilience and Change Mindset in Tech & Digital

Leaders who wish to be successful must adopt a change mindset, rooted in agility and flexibility. When in the midst of global crisis, it can be hard to remember that the likes of Airbnb, Slack, and Uber all began in the middle of a Global Financial Crash. Why? Because they saw an opportunity, and they took it. They leveraged the situation to their advantage. Here at Maxwell Bond, we continued driving recruitment across the UK, USA, and Germany throughout COVID, which meant that we did not furlough or make redundant, any team members, we continued to pay full commission, and managed to grow the team internally, whilst other businesses stood still or downsized/made cut backs.

Leaders should be on the forefront and be able to identify when change is happening. They should then be able to understand the nature of that change and if/how it will affect the business. Most importantly, leaders need to explore what opportunities this change brings and how they can exploit it or future proof their business against it. Organisations and leaders must understand how and when they should act on change. Essentially find the opportunity and seize it. Address any change with resilience, agility, creativity, and positivity.

Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility

At Maxwell Bond we made a full effort to support as many local charities as possible last year, as well as going paperless to help the environment! With climate change and socio-cultural issues on the agenda more than ever, it’s important for businesses to help out however they can, and it’s definitely starting to make a difference in terms of internal recruitment and general business perception. Clients like to know who they are buying from, or working with, sustainable companies who care about the wider community and planet.

I expect a bigger push in 2021 on corporate social responsibility, and how businesses are reducing their carbon footprint, looking after their own employees, and giving back to the community is just as important to future employees instead of focusing on GP and revenue growth.

Shift towards the Triple Bottom Line Approach in Tech & Digital

Similar to the above, I think that more companies will take a Triple Bottom Line Approach to Business, especially more mature businesses who are financially stable enough to take that step. This means an equal focus on people, planet, and profit. Essentially, businesses place equal concern on social and environmental implications as it does on financial ones.

Increasing natural disasters, concerns around climate change, as well as the health crisis, have all contributed to businesses understanding that they need to operate more sustainably.

Focus on Ethics in Tech & Digital

A big question that candidates are going to ask prospective employees in the future is how they treated staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has just added to the increasing focus on ethics and employee support in companies. Anything from maternity/paternity leave, flexible working allowance, and a stricter zero-tolerance policy on many topics and issues will be more in the spotlight than ever before.

Hiring Senior and Executive Appointments in Tech and Digital

There’s lots to consider when hiring for senior and executive positions in your business. From culture, skills, and attitude, to experience, endorsements, and proven accomplishments. It can often be hard to figure out where to start when it comes to hiring new leaders.

Skills that are becoming increasingly important for leaders include empathy, emotional intelligence, and agility. It’s becoming fundamental that leaders nurture their teams, provide support, guidance and training, as well as being able to motivate, drive, and exude positivity. This includes being able to listen and take on board their own criticism, as well as being open to learning themselves. Leaders need to lead, not just manage people. I expect the tolerance for poor leadership to drastically decrease in the coming months and years as employees expectations of work change.

What other skills will become important? I’d love to hear from you. Drop a comment below or message me directly!

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