Leadership Lessons to Take Us Into 2021

This past year threw curveball after curveball at leaders. As we step into the new year, we have an opportunity to reflect on what the uncertainty has taught us.
Leadership Lessons to Take Us Into 2021
Image credit: pishit | Getty Images
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer
CEO of Talend
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

“The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.” - Seth Godin

This past year threw curveball after curveball at leaders who had to navigate a pandemic while managing work-from-home transitions, economic uncertainty, social unrest, and increased anxiety among employees. This tumultuous period made it difficult for many leaders to find solid ground. But as we leap into 2021, we can begin to reflect on the lessons this uncertainty has to teach leaders.

As a new CEO, 2020 definitely had its challenges. But a few key leadership habits helped me survive.

Gather data you can trust to help make decisions

The importance of data in the business world has increased exponentially year-over-year, and the pandemic  accelerated that trend. To keep up with the new landscape, leaders had to embrace digital transformation strategies at the speed of light. What they found was that absolute confidence in their data allowed them to pivot quickly with assurance in their decisions. This trend will continue into 2021 and beyond. Ultimately, trust in data is the thread that holds everything together.

Related: The 4 Key Differences Between Thought Leadership and Content ...

Take a stance

In 2021, company leaders need to continue thinking like activists to create a sense of community amongst their customers, employees and the greater world of business. I encourage everyone to take a stance. I know it is not always advisable for those in a C-suite role to take a position on a particular topic, but we need to be true to ourselves. A fine line intersects who we are as people with who we are as leaders. More than ever, this past year both the business community and society at large were very vocal. Many were looking for answers to difficult questions. Leaders in these circumstances need to meter at all times, stay on the pulse, and be in tune with what’s around them, but that doesn’t preclude them from sharing their thoughts.

I have always championed removing the stigma around mental health and this year, I made my position clear through blogs, articles, podcasts, and internal letters to our employees. Figuring out a way to relay my authentic self and my deepest concerns has helped those around me acknowledge their own feelings and anxieties about the future. Both my customers and employees have expressed their apprehensions, and this is incredibly meaningful to me. It shows that speaking up about what is important to me sparks dialog and ultimately helps everyone process what they are going through.

Taking a stance on a particular topic is one method of creating an ethos of personal transparency for your team, but when you show your employees that it can be a two-way street during times of difficulty, you are working to support them on a much deeper level.

Be transparent

Covid-19 has put enormous stress on the workforce. Under these difficult conditions, support and care for your talent is essential, and this includes more regular check-ins with how employees are doing physically, mentally, and financially. At Talend, we’re offering Headspace to our employees all over the globe. Headspace provides a guided program to help employees add mindfulness and meditation to their lives and tap into better sleep strategies.

Related: Emotional Intelligence is the Secret to Leadership in Times of Crisis

Performance discussions will be important this year, but a good approach may be to simplify and make them more concise talks with very specific, achievable markers. Suggest breaking up the discussions into two conversations. Shorter, more frequent talks will render transparency from management and help ease employee anxieties around uncertainty. Being a leader in 2021 means you need to be accessible and convey your humanity. Create forums for them to have regular communication, so they feel connected to decisions being made.

Create purpose and build corporate culture

For many companies, this past year had a positive impact on redefining company culture and vision, while helping team members realize their full potential. Now more than ever, employees need to feel that what they are doing is meaningful. They want to know that their work makes an impact and that they can feel proud about what they’re doing.

Another important step to take in 2021 is the development of a company vision statement. If you haven’t done so, do it now; it will be hugely useful in the coming months. Reflect your company’s individual reality, shortcomings and progress made. Let your employees know that they are involved in a great collective effort to pull through adversity together. Show that you as a leader see potential in them, and the company, and that their efforts are working to bring your organization forward.

Reach out

Mentorship is critical for everyone, independent of your title and rank. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions to other business leaders in your community. We’re all in the same boat, and we all have a chance to learn from one another. Seek the input of those you trust and engage with your community to uncover new perspectives that will help you identify and seize new opportunities.  

Personally, amidst the disruptive influences of 2020, I have savored deeper relationships with co-workers, an increased focus on intentional mental health, and an expansion of my personal growth, a mindset which inspires me to lead strongly through adversity. 

What will I take with me into 2021? A reinforced survival mindset, work culture measurement strategy ideas, and a clear vision of what it means to have a voice as a CEO who thinks like an activist, because I’m always finding ways to advocate for our customers and employees. I hope that, for all of us, the struggles of 2020 will manifest new ways for us to make a positive impact in the world.

Related: 7 Ways to Learn About Leadership by Playing With the Rubik's Cube

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