Today, the following expert business and leadership book authors shared their advice for how to effectively lead during 2021. My question to them was:
- What is your advice for leaders as we enter what is surely to be a challenging 2021 for most businesses?
Fred Dust -- Author of Making Conversation: Seven Elements of Meaningful Communication
“There’s been a surprisingly joyful outcome of 2020—quite simply, leaders are seeing those they lead as humans. They’ve seen them wrestling with children, in trying to manage personal and professional challenges at home, more Zoom gaffes than we can count, etc., which has given employers a deeply humanistic view of those they manage.
“The converse is also true. Mangers, leaders, and CEOs are grappling with the same—noisy toddlers, spouses who are also navigating unprecedented schedules, faulty technology, etc. This recognition of humanity is significant—I myself paused a team meeting yesterday when I noticed one of my colleagues was especially quiet and asked what was up. She explained a particularly difficult conversation and we all stopped and helped her work through her personal issue before diving back into business. We will continue to need this response from leaders in 2021. We cannot lose this newfound sense of humanity of the people we work with. We need to preserve it, design it into the fabric of our meetings, gatherings, workflows. This will have a significant impact on the way your organization and your people move forward into a hopeful 2021.”
“Lead with authenticity, empathy and vulnerability. That's what it takes to build and sustain the human connection that people need in the new year. When leaders admit to their own challenges instead of portraying a strong and stoic model of unshakability (on the outside), teams grow together, not apart. Think of it like this: when an orange gets squeezed, the juice is going to come out one way or another. It's the same with stress.
“So, let's anticipate it and build in psychological safety measures to succeed together instead of avoiding the inevitable. 2020 was a challenging year and 2021 will bring concerns of its own, but let's come away stronger and more empathetic because of it.”
Suneel Gupta -- Author of BACKABLE: The Surprising Truth About What Makes People Take a Chance on You
"Don’t revert back to ignoring the introverts. When we're in person, brainstorming can quickly devolve into "shout storming.” The loudest voices drown out everyone else. But in a remote culture forced by the quarantine, companies are now relying more on written thought expression, and people who have otherwise been subdued are now speaking out and being heard.
That rang so true for me—I’ve seen it happen over and over again not just in a business setting, but elsewhere, too! Friends groups, families, etc.—the way we’re interacting has changed so drastically and everyone feels on much more equal footing. I hope this trend continues!"
Jonathan Littman and Susanna Camp -- Authors of The Entrepreneur’s Faces: How Makers, Visionaries and Outsiders Succeed
“Seek out specialists. Maybe you have a new venture, or it’s time to pivot to meet the shifting demands of the Covid economy. Make sure you have the right mix of talents at the right time. Sometimes the amazing people key to your launch don’t scale in step with your company. Everyone wears lots of hats at the beginning, and generalists are great here. But as you grow, you’ll need specialists on the team: great salespeople, creative marketers, and robust techies.
“This also extends to personal growth. When it’s time to step up to become a better leader, standing on the shoulders of others can be a great strategy. Seek the expertise of vetted coaches and advisors to focus on specific areas where you need targeted help. Brian Chesky of Airbnb has done just that in recent years. He started out as the archetype we would call the Outsider, bringing a ‘Beginner’s Mind’ as a designer breaking into the hospitality space. As he grew into a more effective leadership role, he’s taken advice from some of the biggest business leaders in the world, such as Warren Buffett, who counseled him to ‘get rich slow.’ Reid Hoffman is a board member, and Chesky’s also brought in Apple alum Jony Ive – who spent years collaborating with the visionary Steve Jobs – to make some magic come true in the coming year. Spot-tune your team during this turbulent time, for more holistic growth.”
David Grossman -- Author of 8 Ways to Lead with Heart in Times of Uncertainty and Change
“My advice for leaders as they head into 2021 – or any challenging time – is to lead with heart. It’s relatively easy to lead when times are good. It takes a lot more courage, empathy and grit to lead during tough times. Now more than ever, leaders play a pivotal role in connecting, calming and inspiring their teams. Employees are looking for leaders who can move them through the storms with wisdom, grace and compassion and there are concrete actions all leaders can take to accomplish that.”
Jerold Zimmerman and Daniel Forrester -- Authors of Relentless: The Forensics of Mobsters' Business Practices
“2021 will not be a return to 2019. 2019 is gone for good. Apocalyptic events like the 2020 pandemic, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and World War II change the world, often in unexpected ways. One of our grandmothers raised a family during the 1930s. When she died in the 60s as an affluent housewife, she had cupboards full of hundreds of cans of Campbells soup, tea bags, and brown paper bags. The Depression created a hoarder. So too will the 2020 pandemic forever alter our lives. Many transformations are unfolding concurrently: telemedicine, home schooling, online shopping, virtual meetings and consumer experiences.
“But many changes coming in 2021 and beyond were unforeseen in 2020. The world still faces great uncertainty about the effectiveness of the Covid vaccines, the duration of their effectiveness, and the ability of the virus to mutate. Many industries will forever be altered: cruise lines, retail, restaurants, business travel, and higher education. We have no crystal ball, but we have some thoughts and insights based on the laws of economics and the need for organizations to drive towards constructive cultures where employees feel safe and heard.
Our advice to leaders is to anticipate a new, as yet to be determined, new normal in 2021. We are likely at the half time of this pandemic and it’s time to take stock and to apply sound thinking to a 2021 reality. More than ever, leaders must be relentless and resourceful in adapting to emerging trends. For example, not all employees will want to return to a 40-hour office job. Many will want to continue to work remotely. So be flexible and collaborative with your employees as you reshape a new social contract. Resourceful leaders wanting to keep their most productive people must devise a hybrid model that allows some to work remotely while others are in the office. Leaders should ask what groups in my company will generate the most insights by collaborating in person—feed those groups early as they will process opportunities faster.
“Be relentless in scanning your business environment for unexpected events and opportunities. Get closer to your customers and design your strategy backwards from their preferences and the problems they want solved. Consider the costs to acquire new customers as a stand-alone entity or by merging with another organization. Ensure that your teams’ incentives are aligned with the organization’s goals. Opportunistically pounce on opportunities while avoiding land mines.
“In our book, Relentless: The Forensics of Mobsters’ Business Practices, we detail instances of how relentless mobsters were quick to seize on changes in their environment. Their ability to imagine and rapidly deploy new schemes and products for their customers (while nothing we would wish to consume) should be a wake-up call to lawful leaders.
“Prohibition created opportunities, and vast wealth to supply banned alcohol. World War II ushered in rationing of basic goods, and criminals quickly began stealing and counterfeiting rationing coupons. As New York State raised cigarette taxes, the Mafia began smuggling in low taxed cigarettes from other states. Crime leaders move quickly to seize opportunities by empowering their high-performance teams to find and execute lucrative vices.
“Apply the relentlessness and resourcefulness of mobsters (but not their immorality) to adapt to the yet to be known, new normal of 2021 and beyond. Empower high performance teams with incentives to expect the unexpected and respond relentlessly.”