Topics: Leadership

4 Things Every Leader Needs to Know in 2021

Hindsight is always 20/20.

In this LinkedIn Article, Anna Straus, Sparck’s CEO, shares unexpected silver linings from last year that opened our eyes to blind spots and missed opportunities. 2020 gave us time to reflect on current practices and how they were negatively impacting our lives, workplaces, and the planet. 

We opened our eyes to see what’s most important. Across the globe, we slowed down, we put people first, and we connected. This helped uncover blind spots that were clouding our vision and potential. These blind spots were hard lessons to learn, but they helped us see that we need a “human approach” to the workplace more than ever before.

Here’s what we recognized:

  • Flexibility and Remote Work - Before the pandemic, remote work was considered a “perk,” but now it’s an expectation. The traditional 9-to-5 work day is no longer the norm.

  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) - After the death of George Floyd last spring, organizations around the nation began to take a heightened interest in their commitment to diversity and inclusion. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the principles of DEIB.

  • Leadership - If we’d like to capture and sustain this growth, we must continue to expand our commitment to transformational leadership through perception. The traditional hierarchical leadership and performance management model is no longer effective in a remote diverse workforce.

  • Local Community - The pandemic showed us how much small businesses shape our local culture and the economic opportunities within it. They need us and we need them. 

2020 showed us how much we need transformation to succeed in 2021. If adopted and kept as a key part of the “new normal” we are building together, the human approach will have a profound impact on our workplace experiences and people. We need to unmask transformational leadership traits and recognize these attributes as the secret to navigating out of this pandemic as stronger leaders. 

Unmasking Transformational Leadership Traits for 2021

In November and December of 2020, we uncovered how employees want to be seen and heard. Leaders who accomplish this have a significant impact on engagement by showing high levels of individualized attention. They encourage, listen and take action based on employee feedback. They motivate and inspire their teams with the use of clear communication and expectations. This is the very essence of a transformational leader.

As leaders navigate our “new normal,” we should be extremely sensitive to our employees’ experience and the way we lead. Gartner, a leading research and advisory firm, reveals the harsh reality that only 44% of employees say they trust their organization’s leaders and managers to navigate a crisis well. The truth is, transformational leaders may be the quietest in the room as they have an uncanny ability to listen, adapt, and help prevent change fatigue for their employees. Today, employees have a different set of expectations because of what has been seen and experienced in the wake of the pandemic.

The following traits will set up leaders for success in 2021 and beyond.

Lead with Authenticity

Now, more than ever, authentic leadership is nonnegotiable. The best leaders display their true selves. They’re genuine, self-aware, empathetic and transparent. This takes a degree of vulnerability and the willingness to check egos at the door. We’re all fallible beings, but we also accomplish more when we are honest and recognize the strengths others bring to the table. Plus, according to researchers at the University of Nebraska, work environments with authentic leaders tend to have positive effects on employees including higher job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and work happiness. This leads to higher levels of trust, greater capacity for problem-solving and performance, and more unified teams. 

Here are some ideas for leading with authenticity:

  • Ask for feedback from your team on a regular basis and, most importantly, take action on it. 
  • Consistently provide your team with feedback that’s both positive and constructive. 
  • Schedule time weekly for self-reflection.  We all need it. 

Motivate and Inspire

It’s officially time to brush off the dust on your books and conference materials that cover strategies for effective team coaching. Transformational leadership means being a coach, not a boss. The commitment to motivate and inspire will show your employees that you believe they are capable of more, which in turn will encourage them to push past their limits. When employees know they have a leader who is confident in their abilities, they will aim to accomplish even bigger goals.

Here are some ideas to motivate and inspire:

  • Discover how to best make each employee feel appreciated and personalize each recognition moment. (Hint: ask questions!)
  • Communicate and help your employees set clear and measurable goals so you can celebrate their wins and accomplishments. 
  • Provide guidance and support for your employees’ decisions, and let them execute without

Have a “People First” Attitude

Did you know the most effective and valued leaders focus on their people more than on themselves? By being intentional about seeking employee feedback and recognizing contributions and efforts, you’ll empower your team to think creatively. Each employee on your team brings a different set of skills and strengths to the organization. Effective leaders leverage these diverse skills to achieve larger goals and build a collective sense of purpose. Reaching beyond your self-interests will garner your employees’ loyalty and inspire them to commit to the team as well. 

Here are some ideas for implementing a people-first attitude:

  • Commit to recognizing your employees’ unique strengths and holding up that mirror to help them see themselves clearly. 
  • Create opportunities and projects to encourage feedback and team collaboration.
  • Aside from the organizational mission and vision, try creating a mission statement specifically for your team so everyone is rowing in the same direction.

Be Willing to Take the Right Risks

Transformational leaders are all about growth and adapting to change. Make 2021 the year that you adopt a growth mindset within your team. This is not the era of operating on autopilot and playing it safe. Push past complacency and be willing to take the right risks. You never know where the next brilliant idea will come from. Establish an environment where employees can highlight their individuality in a collaborative environment, and then be willing to listen and act on change! 

Here are some ideas to take risks and promote innovation:

  • Reject groupthink and include divergent thinking in your planning meetings to capture more of what your employees uniquely bring to the table. 
  • Step out of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to have those difficult discussions or consider unpopular opinions. 
  • Establish regular discussion times or opportunities for your employees to share new and innovative ideas. Encourage your team to share their ideas, no matter how wacky they are. 

We encourage you to take some time to consider these transformational leadership traits and how they might apply to you and your company. Which of these traits are already a part of your leadership style? Which ones are you still working to develop? Are any of them new ideas to you? 

Learning to lead this way won’t happen overnight, but you can begin taking small steps to implement each of these traits and to encourage them in those who lead under you. If you can do this successfully and authentically, you will almost certainly see an increase in employee satisfaction and productivity. Transformation in 2021 starts with you!

Topics: Leadership

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