Leadership trends 2021 – more lists!

Last week’s blog was all about the joy (or the grind) of lists with what we hope were some useful pointers. So, it felt only natural that this blog should provide a bit of a follow up on the topic with an overview of a whole plethora of lists on what better topic than… leadership.

Of course, each originator of their individual list believes in their selection and it’s been interesting to see where there is some originality, where alignment and how evident a bit of left field thinking is (something we always value at Maier).

The good thing with lists is you have choice; you can decide what’s useful and, as far as you’re concerned, what can go in the bin. Bit like a quick fire exercise we use quite a lot with teams who need to strip out non essentials to hit strategic priorities called Ditch, Hang onto, Aspire. Got to say, Ditch is often the most liberating.

It’s good to remember as well that no list is the definitive one (you can change them!) and leadership proves to be no exception as the ‘vital top leadership trends’ seem to range from 5 to 7 to 10 and everything in between.

Setting the scene

The 10 plus sources we referred to all cite the context of the pandemic as shaping the key leadership trends for 2021. We know from writing these blogs that we can all get a bit weary of continuously going over the ‘new normal’ – the ‘old normal’ – ‘hybrid working’. But, ‘we are where we are’ –  heard that one quite a bit recently – so let’s see what resonates for you.

The ones to hit the Maier sweet spot the most were those demonstrating the positive mindset of ‘opportunity in disruption’ with the realists saying;

‘The way we lead organisations and manage people was already facing disruption prior to COVID-19. However, the events of 2020 rocked the business world to the point where leaders must adapt if they, their teams and their businesses, are to survive and thrive’.

Lists & more lists

OK, first list coming up…some themes that stood out for us;

Empathetic leadership

  • A powerful one that we have had a lot of direct experience of recently; the balancing act of accountability with kindness.
  • Remote working is here to stay as an emerging leadership trend. To maintain a healthy work/ life balance keep a look out for erosion of privacy & a blurring of boundaries between work/home.

Planning for economic volatility

  • According to Metcalf in Forbes, Covid 19 and other unprecedented climate events overlap to exaggerate their effects in unpredictable ways. The emerging leadership trend is planning for this economic instability, knowing that it is a factor and may be for some while. An organization’s inability to predict and plan can disrupt progress in addressing critical issues. And a delayed or slow reaction can amplify underlying problems.
  • This also emphasises the need for Exec teams to up their game in strategic planning and thinking allowing their departmental teams to ‘get on’ with the execution

Eradicating ethical blind spots (UQ)

  • According to Dr Michael Collins, many unethical behaviours that may seem deliberate are actually unintentional.

‘The research shows that in many cases, unethical behaviour is the result of people simply failing to recognise the nature of their actions. It’s a deterioration in judgement that can lead to otherwise good people doing bad things, but this doesn’t make them any less harmful,”

The triple bottom line approach

  • The triple bottom line, an approach to business that places equal concern on social and environmental implications as it does on financial ones.

Diversity and inclusion

  • All leaders, not just HR, being attuned to the need for their organisations to be genuinely seen as a working and learning community for an increasingly diverse workforce.

Digital transformation – evolved communications

  • No surprise on this one. …to stay ahead of the curve leaders need to plan to address this economic instability.
  • Highly productive organisations have equipped their teams with new technologies to stay connected both with customers and co-workers during this time. The HBR research estimates that the organizations that have best done this have seen productive time rise by more than 5%.
  • Remote work has created opportunities for organizations to access talent that may not have been accessible before Covid-19. And it has enabled most skilled workers to engage virtually in a wider range of enterprises than they could have physically

Top of the lists; 

Building trust

  • Always at the heart of things for us; demonstrate your values, keep building trust, work on the shifts from hierarchy to distributed leadership, demonstrate HOT (honesty, openness, trust).
  •  A flatter culture, based on democratic leadership practices helps organizations to build stronger internal communications with the employees and boosts morale. Ideally, it gives everyone the ability to make quick decisions and adapt to cultural changes within the organization. It has to be based on trust.

Building a positive culture – providing a better employee experience

  • Right across the board, this is the biggie with many references to how key this is to remote working. To keep your team on board as changes sweep through your business focus on employee engagement and inspiration. Tap into the talent is the mantra.
  • A new report from RSA’s Matthew Taylor and Vitality has found that multiple lockdowns worsened employee physical health, mental health and caused a gap between employee and employer expectations. Some of the key conclusions included: finding that anxiety among staff had shot up as they worry about the office return, uncovering the gap between employer and employee expectations around remote working, and noting the decline of physical activity in over a quarter of the workforce. Many current employees, star-performers, have left their organizations due to the mounting pressures at home and work

Developing/adopting a change mindset

  • How do you ensure you and your people can stay balanced and productive when the sprint turns into a marathon?
  • To thrive in rapidly changing circumstances, you need to adapt to a range of changes both at work and at home – as leaders and as people in the world.

Final thoughts: Now is the time to find your opportunities in this disruption. 

  • Move to anticipate things and plan ahead for what’s to come in 2021, plot a future with these emerging leadership trends where you can work on opportunities surfaced by the unexpected events we are experiencing now. Imagine a future where your organisation can benefit from new freedoms that these changes promise.
  • Seize upon this opening for new knowledge and skills requirements. Make your moment now to keep delivering results faster while planning for economic volatility and building trust in and with your teams.

Some of the sources;

  • https://www.inspiringleadershipnow.com/7-emerging-leadership-trends-in-2021-and-beyond/
  • https://www.stratx-exl.com/industry-insights/leadership-management-trends
  • https://blog.vantagecircle.com/leadership-trends/
  • https://business.uq.edu.au/momentum/5-leadership-trends-for-2021
  • https://abnresource.com/43/employer/hot-leadership-trends-for-2021-beyond/
  • https://blog.bonus.ly/leadership-trends
  • https://www.ddiworld.com/blog/10-hot-leadership-topics-for-2021