David Wray

AdaptingCommunicationEmbracing learningempathyLeadershipListeningOvercome ChallengesResilienceUncertainty

What 2020’s Uncertainty Teaches Us About 2021 Leadership Needs

A man being dragged hanging onto his wife's leg as her companion looks on in amusement at his loyalty.
Credit: Author Unknown

What has this year’s uncertainty shown us?

As I write the final BLOG in 2020, I reflect on the uncertainty experienced this year. So much has happened (I know this is said by many almost every year, but really this year is different)! The year presented many opportunities for individuals to rise to the challenge. In those moments, some inspired greatness and some failed miserably, but in both we gain valuable insights.

A small snapshot of head shaking moments witnessed:

  • Rising nationalism: PPE, medical supplies or other essential supply hoarding to the detriment of frontline health workers throughout the world.
  • Economic divide: women and minorities are taking the brunt of the financial hit from the pandemic, according to the WTO. Threatening to roll back hard-fought progress.
  • Wealthy corporates: accepting tax-payer pandemic subsidies while being capable of weathering revenue declines.
  • US presidential election: a nation remains distrustful, angry and divided in its wake. A time where personal character attacks are commonplace and civil discourse absent.
  • Brexit: families and a nation remain deeply divided over the decision, its management and what the future holds. The labels of Brexiteer and Remainer still haven’t dissipated almost 5 years on!

Yet, we’ve also seen moments of incredible personal leadership:

  • Selfless individuals: frontline and healthcare workers around the world supporting all of us notwithstanding the personal risks.
  • Strangers helping each other: providing food, medical supplies and companionship for vulnerable or isolating individuals. 
  • Environmental consciousness: a global coalescence to change economies for the good of the planet. Early government intervention with tax-payer pandemic loan conditions in Canada, the UK, and France amongst others.
  • Equality activism: a reawakened awareness, action and movement towards genuine equality for all. Seen through #BLM and re-igniting other causes such as #EqualPay.
  • Jacinda Arden: securing a landslide election victory, in large part due to her management of Covid19 in NZ and her relationship building skills.

All of this to say, borrowing the immortal ideas of Albert Einstein, the kind of leadership that has led us to the head-shaking moments is not the same leadership that needs to see us through them!

So, let’s take a closer look at the leadership skills likely to be most useful in 2021.

What kind of leadership skills will be needed in 2021?

There are a handful of skills that will see us thrive in 2021. Unsurprisingly none of them are new and revolutionary but they are highly sought after! 

These skills are useful in politics where negotiation, compromise and consensus are particularly important. In business where strategy, execution and survival are key. And, in families where compassion and adaptability help weather the lockdown and social restriction stresses generated by the pandemic. 

  1. Emotional Intelligence
  2. Adaptability
  3. Critical Thinking 
  4. Creativity
  5. Virtual Teaming

Examples are particularly helpful in practically illustrating the skills in action, and there is nothing like tackling tough issues head-on! So, with that, we start by recognizing what 2021 likely holds in store: uncertainty.

How and when the US and Britain will reunite after their fundamental division is uncertain. When nationalism will be replaced with global collaboration and trust is uncertain. How the inequalities will be remedied without creating new ones is uncertain. 

We need to remember that uncertainty follows from any disruptive change. It is also a real chance for individuals to come together and make a meaningful difference. Let’s take a closer look at the facilitating steps to transition through the uncertainties we will continue to face into 2021. The objective is to ensure that individuals feel heard, understood and valued. It will in turn create commitment towards whatever is next.

A Framework for managing through uncertainty

  • Listen and Discuss: break down the fear, polarisation and stress that results in individuals speeding up and ceasing to listen. Do so through the simple act of paying attention to what others say and don’t say. Observe non-verbal cues. Seek to understand perspectives through the eyes of other individuals. Open your mind to change based on what you learn.
  • Develop connections: prevent division and the avoidance of people with different thinking styles. Do it by purposefully connecting with individuals whose approach differs and may challenge your own thinking. Help individuals re-engage when they disconnect, keep them involved in the dialogue. 
  • Foster trust: avoid a break down in resistance to change and polarized views by trusting that resistance is part of the process in managing uncertainty. Help individuals feel safe in sharing their experience, believe in the truth that everyone does their best and create space for different opinions.
  • Make uncertainty a friend: push through the tendency to move away when it gets uncomfortable by staying engaged in difficult conversations and help others do the same. Create the freedom for individuals to temporarily disconnect, however encourage them to re-engage as soon as they are able so know they’re valued.
  • Be more human: suppress blame, judgment and criticism which surface as polarization causing individuals to disagree. Do so by controlling your own emotions. Take time to care for yourself which might be a couple of deep breaths during a meeting to remain grounded. More than all of this, be kind in all moments!
  • Centre from within: minimize triggering negative reactions in others. Do so by staying with tried-and-true communication and engagement methods during periods of uncertainty. Courageously face and help those around you to face the unknown with enthusiasm. Be willing to fail, learn and then try again!

Your turn

Years of experience have shown us that at its worst, uncertainty produces anxiety, polarization and division. Leaders and individuals alike can avert this by showing empathylisteningengaging in dialogue and by supporting each other. All of these skills are learned. 

A stimulating leadership webinar organized through Harvard Business Review on January 25th is worth checking out!

Sign into the Member Section or comment below to share your views, tips and tricks on leadership in times of uncertainty.

See you back online in 2021, where we’ll continue exploring a wide range of life skills!

Give it a try!

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