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Three Leadership Skill Shifts We Experienced in 2020.

Updated: May 11


There is no denying that 2020 was a crazy year. But amidst the forest fires, killer hornets, and global pandemics, it highlighted a variety of learning opportunities that the savvy business owner can take advantage of. Some of them may be subtle, but they can be incredibly impactful in improving how you lead your company, whether you’re dressed in a suit in a boardroom, or dressed in your pyjamas on a Zoom call.



There are three main shifts we’ll discuss today – they may be subtle at first glance, but they can have an incredibly positive impact on how you manage both your business and your relationships with your employees.


1. USING EMPATHY TO SHOW THAT YOU CARE


You’ve surely heard about the benefits of being a good communicator – many CEOs and business journals will cite it as being the most important skill that every good leader should possess. However, with the rise of working from home and the use of virtual meetings, it’s clear that the nature of communicating with your employees has changed quite a bit, possibly permanently.


Now, instead of relying on blank, emotionless emails, business leaders across the globe have been forced to improve their empathy – their ability to care about their employees at a deeper level than just the output of their work; being forced to consider their mental health.


One of the aspects of remote work is that it is considered either appealing, or terrifying, depending on what kind of company you run. All of a sudden, your employees require self-determination and motivation, now that they have a lot more freedom in how they conduct their work.

Because of this, business leaders suddenly had the task of making sure that their employees were actually motivated, and not just using the time at home to binge another Netflix series. The silver lining to this is that empathy can be a valuable skill to invest in, even when your business is back to normal, if such a thing is even possible anymore.


Humera Shahid, VP of Talent at Intuit said: “It’s showing you care, not just as a manager, but as a person.” Many trends will show that burnout as a result of work is increasing at an alarming rate, and so considering the mental health of those in your company can be incredibly important, especially with the stress that 2020 has brought on everyone.


This year has shifted leaders to care more about the employee as a person, rather than just an asset that you assume is handling the workload you’ve set out for them. If nothing else, managers and CEOs have been taught to listen more, considering what answers the employee personally gives and not just what they write in their reports.


2. LEARNING HOW TO NAVIGATE YOUR FEELINGS, RATHER THAN JUST BEING AWARE OF THEM


Go to any workshop on leadership, and they’ll preach to you the importance of emotional intelligence. This is the ability to be both, aware of your emotions and control them – not letting them control you. There are obvious benefits to honing this skill; you don’t want to go ballistic every time someone spills coffee on you.


However, there is a level beyond emotional intelligence that can be even more beneficial to you as a leader, known as “emotional agility”. Dr. Susan David, a renowned Harvard Medical School psychologist, coined the term herself, and defines it as “an individual’s ability to experience their thoughts, emotions and events in a way that doesn’t drive them in negative ways, but instead encourages them to reveal the best of themselves.”


An emotionally agile person is able to detach themselves from the situation and examine their thoughts, viewing them as just thoughts and feelings that don’t have any tangible impact on how you act in any given situation. In other words, if you spill coffee on an emotionally agile manager, they may be incredibly mad internally, but recognise that that frustration is irrational, and they don’t need to give in to it. They will instead, accept your apology and move on.


Mishandling of emotions can be devastating for any business leader, as I’m sure you’re aware, so focussing on honing your emotional agility in conjunction with your emotional intelligence can be incredibly beneficial to you as we enter the new year. As leaders become more emotionally agile over time, they will be able to master both the intent and the impact they want to have.


When intent and impact are aligned, communication is clear and emotions aren’t triggered. And even on the rare occasion they are, leaders can swiftly recognize this and adjust accordingly.



3. CARING MORE ABOUT CONTEXT


Admit it, you underestimated how difficult it would be to migrate your business online. We all did, to be fair – most CEOs thought it would be a seamless and simple transition to make everything happen from home, but, boy oh boy, was it far more complicated.


Meetings can’t simply have a one-to-one transition from a board room to a Zoom room – you never really had to deal with the possibility of your COO sleeping in and missing a presentation before. As a result, business leaders had to learn the hard way, the importance of context and the logistics of how their business operates. The way time is managed, and our schedules are designed is based entirely on how and where we’re working, and who we’re working with.


A massive rewiring needed to happen as businesses were faced with uncertainty and the problems of having to fundamentally change the nature of their work. New variables had to be considered daily: when should we come together for meetings, now that everyone has their own different schedule? What work can be done synchronously versus asynchronously? Does everyone need to be there for every meeting, or can they watch a recording of it when they need to? Is it even possible for us to go to the office at all, and what functionalities cannot be done remotely and require us to be in the office?


And don’t even get me started on how everyone will suddenly be working in entirely different workspaces – how do you manage, both the guy on a $300 laptop and the girl who has a multi-monitor, $10,000 setup? Inconsistency and uncertainty can be the taglines of 2020, and they’re going to be what you need to learn to adapt to, in the future – who knows what 2021 could bring?


Designing our work schedules and environments around our context is an incredibly vital skill – the hybrid workplace brings with it an equal amount of opportunities as it does potential things to go wrong, so it’s important that you know how to manage it effectively.


Examine your calendar constantly – schedules are far more malleable now with all the options that remote work brings, so ensure that you’re using your time effectively. It’s important to remember that it’s not the work itself that causes burnout and a lack of motivation, it’s how you’re working.


If you can establish an effective workflow and schedule for your business that is well suited to the “work from home” environment that we’re dealing with, you can come out on top! Where a lot of other businesses may fail, with their employees losing self-determination as they’re unable to keep up with the demanding workload, they would otherwise be able to keep up with, under normal circumstances.




The benefit of having a year filled with such inconsistency, stress, and uncertainty, is that you can learn from it and adapt to unexpected conditions quickly and easily. As the new year begins, it’s vital that you examine the lessons that 2020 offered us and reflect on how you can shift your skills to make your business excel in 2021.


They may be small changes, but with a stronger focus on empathy to ensure that your workers are handling their workloads without stress. In addition to a refinement of your emotional agility to ensure that you can separate your emotions from your environment and analyse situations rationally, as well as an emphasis on context management over time management. You will find that you can lead far more effectively and get some serious work done, even if you do it in your pyjamas and in-between episodes of your favourite Netflix show.


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