Leadership Lessons from 2020
They say hindsight is 20/20, and looking back on the last year, we’ve learned a few leadership lessons. We learned that leadership is not established by title, but by actions. Successful leaders are resilient and able to pivot and adjust to the challenges of an ongoing global pandemic. They had to make hard decisions while building a culture to support employees and maintain morale during a level of stress and uncertainty that we haven’t seen in our lifetime.
The companies that have weathered this past year did so because their employees rallied when faced with adversity. Some employees will always give you this effort. Others were inspired and motivated by their effective leaders.
Looking back at our lessons learned, we see some common traits among the most effective business leaders:
- Value Diversity
- Open to Feedback
- Culture Builders
- Consistent, even in a crisis
1. Building Resilience
Resilience is the ability to adapt and bounce back when things don’t go as planned. I think we can all agree that nothing in the last year has gone as planned. The biggest leadership lesson from the last year is that resilience is not easy and it takes work and focus.
Resilience helps you overcome challenges, learn from mistakes, and gives you the strength to not give up in the face of adversity. Resilient and good leaders look at negative events as opportunities to learn and grow. They rise to the challenge. According to Harvard Business Review, “companies that are successfully navigating the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing recession have often pivoted to a business model that’s conducive to short-term survival, and long-term resilience and growth.”
When faced with setbacks, resilient leaders remain committed to moving forward and achieving goals. They know they can’t control outside forces but can control how they react. They make the conscious choice to focus on the areas in which they can make an impact. They focus on finding a solution. They don’t waste their time and energy worrying, complaining, or being frustrated.
The good news is resilience can be developed by:
- Taking care of yourself: eating right, staying hydrated, and getting exercise.
- Setting boundaries: managing your schedule, including incorporating down time to recharge mentally and engaging in positive self-talk.
- Offering empathy: paying attention to how your teammates are responding to pressure and offering support.
- Practicing a growth mindset: realize that your leadrship skills, qualities, and strengths can be developed and improved with practice and education.
- Surrounding yourself with success: like attracts like, so surround yourself with other resilient people so you can lean on and learn from each other.
2. Confident Decision Making
Think back to February 2020. We followed news reports about a virus that was sweeping across nations overseas, and a month later we were all either working from home or waiting to find out what our job would look like moving forward. We’ve gone from crisis management being a theoretical concept to living through a true crisis. We no longer have the gift of complacency. Lives are at stake.
The leadership lessons of the COVID-19 global pandemic include the importance of confident and empathetic decision-making in the face of an emergency. For our purposes, an emergency is an unexpected event that threatens employee and customer safety, business operations, or the environment. Coronavirus and the new variant check all of those “emergency” boxes.
Emergency preparedness training should be part of your company’s risk mitigation process. By creating a crisis management plan, your team has a roadmap to follow so they know what to do during any kind of emergency whether it’s a pandemic, natural disaster, technology crisis, etc. These plans are critical. They will directly affect your life, not to mention the lives of your employees and their families. Having a plan will support quick and confident decision making.
Define different emergency scenarios, then create a set of policies and procedures to follow for each one. Creating this type of roadmap allows managers and employees to remain calm, which in turn calms customers or others impacted by the emergency.
3. The Benefit of Diversity
The news has exploded in the last year with Black Lives Matter, conversations around anti-racism and understanding privilege, and marches for women’s rights and the LGBTQ community. What leadership lessons are the people of our country trying to teach us? As a business leader, how will you and your organization respond?
We are seeing that successful leaders view diversity, equality, and inclusion as a priority. They are helping organizations understand and celebrate our differences. Diversity strengthens organizations by bringing different perspectives, ideas and experiences to the table. Although diversity training is an important part of building a company culture, research shows companies need to do more. Here are a few ideas to better embrace diversity in your organization:
- Get commitment from the C-suite: ask company leaders to set the tone.
- Build a formal mentorship program: connecting experienced employees with new hires draws people with different backgrounds into the overall team.
- Prioritize diversity initiatives: create a team led by an experienced diversity officer to create proactive policies and address any issues as they arise.
Successful diversity inclusion is about living it, supporting it, coaching it, correcting it, and reinforcing it. This is a cultural shift that will continue to elevate morale at companies that embrace it. As a leader, you should maintain an open-door policy to encourage your employees to bring issues or concerns to your attention.
4. Encourage Feedback
Have you ever had a co-worker willing to say the things everyone else is thinking? Does your company culture embrace open and honest discussion? Do your leaders? If not, you’re going to surround yourself with “yes men and women” who would rather tell you what you want to hear instead of telling you what you need to hear.
When it comes to feedback, leaders need to show they’re paying attention to customers and employees alike. Using simple active listening techniques help.
- Maintain eye contact and give your undivided attention if you are in person or on a video call.
- Focus on the other person and wait until they’re done speaking to formulate a response.
- Clarify by asking questions or summarizing what they’ve just said.
- If necessary, set a time for follow-up.
5. Creating a Culture of Transparency
The coronavirus crisis challenged and changed people, economies, and businesses worldwide. Leaders were required to make quick decisions to protect workers and maintain business continuity. As we move forward from this crisis, our actions will determine the future success and well-being of the organization.
Transparency and communication should become a core value. Promote honesty and proactivity. Transparency sustains employee morale and builds (or rebuilds) trust. This does not mean sharing all information about everything. It’s important to disclose enough information so that employees can make the best decisions for their own situation and for their families.
Employees have been feeling a lot of stress over the last year about the spread of the virus, the safety of the vaccine, the security of their jobs, etc. You might conduct an employee survey to gauge the level of anxiety for returning to work and what factors should be considered beyond the health and well-being of people. In the spirit of transparency, you can share the survey results along with management’s response.
Beyond a survey, leaders can support employee mental health by listening to concerns, getting feedback on proposed changes, and communicating openly and often. Disconnected leaders will not recognize the need for transparency. This brings us to empathy.
6. Empathy as a Leader
Teams managed by emotionally intelligent leaders are proven to fare better through rough patches and persevere through difficult projects. Showing empathy benefits the whole team by boosting morale, encouraging unity, and helping leaders to better connect with their team.
Empathy is the ability to “walk in another person’s shoes.” This philosophy should apply to how you interact with your employees. Taking another person’s perspective into account is crucial for becoming more empathetic. If you find this difficult, consider a job shadow. This is something you may have done as a new employee, but it is a great practice for a manager to spend some time on the front lines.
You will quickly get a sense of the challenges employees face day-to-day and identify areas of improvement. Watch an episode of “Undercover Boss” to see a wealthy, pampered CEO hustle to keep up in difficult work conditions and empathize on the spot!
7. Expect the Best, Prepare for the Worst
If 2020 has shown us anything, it’s that a crisis can hit at any time. Great leaders empower their employees with ongoing crisis management training. The time to prepare for a crisis is before it strikes. A crisis management plan should include:
- Response Training
- Business Continuity
- Media Coaching
By offering proactive training and involving people across the organization, you get more people thinking about the “what ifs” so you can all be better prepared.
Training Topics to Address Important Leadership Lessons
I truly believe that, with the right training, great leaders can come from anywhere inside a company. When you work with a company like HSI, you can easily curate a library of training courses to align with all the important leadership lessons of the past year and a half. Our Business Skills library allows you to quickly assign these courses as needed. A few of our leadership position training titles include:
- Leadership and Power
- Motivational Leadership
- Empowering Followers
- Dealing with Resistance
- Effective Delegation
- Fixing the Dysfunction
- And much more
Sign up for a trial of our HSI LMS and see how you can support your current leaders while mentoring the next generation in your organization.
- How to Develop Leaders Across the Organization
- Why You Should Add Video to Your Leadership Training Program
- Empower Your Employees with Crisis Management Training