2020 was an extraordinary opportunity for global leadership styles to be held up to scrutiny. World leaders faced the same challenge, a global pandemic, and we witnessed in real time the impact of varied leadership styles and resources.

From the decisive, and quick action leaders, to those driven by public relations and the need to keep loyal to their message, the heartbreaking statistics that followed showed to the public in real-time what leadership can do.

So what have we learned that will shape leadership in 2021?

The year began with a strange mix of anticipation, trepidation, and hope for leaders as we reset, seeking to leave behind the bulk of 2020’s anxiety, uncertainties and challenges. What is certain are the leadership trends and styles that have arisen both in response to the pandemic but also with the ambition of making a better 2021.

Talk is cheap: Empathy is paramount.

“Communication” has been a leadership buzzword for so long that it practically reads as white noise. From now on, the skill leaders need to demonstrate is empathy, or the ability to understand the ‘lived experience’ of others. Simple, yes, but not easy.

Communication styles must be authentic and reflect genuine interest and must accept that listening is as important as response that follows.

Take the example of Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand prime minister.

Ardern has time and again displayed empathetic leadership during the crises faced during her tenure, from terrorist attacks to natural disasters and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. Ardern connected with victims, first responders and everyday folk with genuine empathy and is one of the most popular prime ministers of all time.

The take home message is that empathy is not only something that needs to be demonstrated but something that should inform leadership decisions. When true empathy is felt strong, stakeholder-focused leadership choices will follow.

Mind over matter: Vertical leader development

Traditionally leadership development has been horizontal, involving expanding one’s skillset by developing new abilities, increasing one’s knowledge base, and improving competencies.

In 2021, we see a shift from this traditional horizontal development towards vertical leader development. Vertical development involves changing and augmenting the way you think, interact, and behave, effectively broadening your mindset and improving your decision making and thinking processes.

Our sense of self and the way we think are the things that make up our mindset. When engaging in vertical development, the focus is on changing the way we think, act, and behave, with a focus on becoming more self-aware, adaptable, and better able to collaborate with others. As economies and public funding contracts, this adaptive leadership will be what sets apart those who can thrive in this uncertain environment.

More than one bottom line: Wellbeing leadership

In 2021, the world will continue to skew away from tunnel-visioned leadership with single objective focuses and towards leadership that aims to optimise a range of objectives.

According to Dr Lance Newey, Senior Lecturer at the University of Queensland, wellbeing leadership should be measured across eight domains, physical, psychological, material, economic, social, environmental, cultural and spiritual objectives.

The pandemic environment has shown firsthand how challenging it is for leaders to balance multiple objectives. From weighing the impact of an economic shutdown against public health risks; to constraints of personal freedoms being challenged against spiritual, social and community safety considerations.

Wellbeing leadership strives to think holistically about unintended consequences and deliver meaningful and balanced outcomes that contribute to, or at the very least cause no harm to the wellbeing of individuals, communities, and the environment.

Self-Leadership: Selflessness is selfish

The willingness to step up in times of uncertainty and challenge provides a platform for our best leaders to shine. For many leaders this is an instinctive action. As the challenge increases, they double down, lifting to the task and inspiring others to bring their best to the collective action.

The breadth and depth of the pandemic response has seen even our best leaders face a challenge where the relentlessness of the task ahead offers little visibility of an end in sight. While vaccine rollouts offer some hope, it offers no silver bullet.

To be a good leader we need to model the behaviours we espouse. It is impossible to give our best if depleted, exhausted, burnt out, and stressed. Recognising the signs, investing in personal wellbeing is critical to ensure our leaders and the decisions they make are ‘match fit.’

Self-leadership demands that leaders invest in their own mental health, physical wellbeing, connected relationships and inner purpose regularly and meaningfully– it won’t change what has to be delivered but it may change the quality of the mindset with which the challenged is approached and consequently the approach taken by others around.

Collaboration: Leadership does not have to be a lonely game

As economies contract and public agencies brace for restricted budgets, blunt cuts and siloed thinking won’t meet the outcomes or expectations of public, stakeholders or shareholders. The value of collaboration with fellow leaders cannot be overstated. From discovering you are not alone in facing your current challenges to gaining perspective and finding support from people who truly understand, working with others will be key.

Leaders across different sectors can gain hugely valuable insight by sharing knowledge with high- performing executives from both their own field and others, discovering new ways to overcome obstacles and change the way they lead.

Find your Leadership Tribe with a 2021 Leadership Vibe

As a leader it can be hard to find professional development that is contemporary and meaningful, and that can provide a tangible, return on investment for the executive and their organisation. Conferences and training courses do not offer a value proposition that provides a genuine learning environment that offers real-time and tested experience.

At HardyGroup we bring together like-minded and like-skilled executives to challenge themselves as they embrace their own leadership challenges and journey. We bring leaders from across the public and private sectors focusing on adaptive leadership and executive wellbeing. We also offer specialised offerings to executives in health and human services sectors connecting them into networks of collaborators offering support and sharing knowledge in a confidential, exclusive, and mutually beneficial experience. Gain access to the collective wealth of executive experience with our Learning Set Program.