2020 has been quite a year! I think we can all agree we’re ready to see it out and move into 2021 with optimism and hope as we gradually move into being able to socialise again? What will we take from this strange year we have all had? Are there things we have learnt that we will take into 2021?

Here are my thoughts on everything you need to know about leadership in 2021 as we move forwards.

Leadership has been redefined

Before this year, there were many managers of people all around the world who said that remote working was not possible. That they need to see their teams to know they are working and be able to check they are doing what they should be doing. Well, this year, that thinking had to change overnight as the majority of people switched to working from home. It was a global remote working experiment no one could have imagined.

This shift redefined what leadership is actually about. It’s not about checking how many hours someone sits at a desk in an office. It’s about inspiring quality work to be produced and enabling the team to get on and do just that. It requires the leader to have faith in their team to deliver and complete that work without being in the same place as their boss.

We learnt that leadership is about trust, communication and clear goal-setting. If people know what they are expected to achieve, and this is communicated well to them, then they can get on with that task knowing they are trusted to get the job done. And they need to know they can communicate with their manager easily if they need help. This seems way better than the experience of trying to catch a free moment with a manager in an office in between all the meetings they have to attend.

Leaders are people too

With most people working from home, we have all caught glimpses of each other’s lives. Whether it’s cats walking across desks, or children peering into meetings or seeing each other’s bookshelves – we have learnt more about each other this year through a little window than we may have gained from years in the same office.

It has meant that the image of leaders as aloof, distant and formal has disappeared. Leaders who adapted well to this world have relaxed and allowed their teams to learn more about them, and they have learnt more about their teams. Communication skills have had to adapt to different ways of reaching people, and less formality. It has been a year of leadership becoming more relaxed and human and not so bound by restrictions.

Next year, as we adapt to some working back in offices, it will be the leaders who understand that the world has changed who will thrive. Many people will want to continue with an element of remote working, and that means that cats, dogs and children might appear on screen during video calls. It doesn’t matter. The work still gets done, and this change in rigid work times and office structures is something that has been needed for a long time.

Inclusion is the future

As we have all been forced into this situation, it has been a time of levelling for a lot of people, and one of understanding differences for others. If you’re fortunate enough to live somewhere where you have an office or spare room you can work in, it has been great. If you live in a shared house or tiny flat with no space to work, it’s been tough. For those who struggle to access venues, it’s been a year where they have been on a level with everyone as we all attend things online. The conversation in society this year has been one about diversity, difference and including different types of people.

We have a long way to go, but we can see that the conversation has moved on this year to understand differences and for many to think about how to include different types of people. As we go forwards, the strongest leaders will be those who adapt to different working practices and use more inclusive methods. There has always been a strong business case for diversity and inclusion, but 2021 will be the year that those who don’t embrace this will be left behind.

Technology enables strong leaders

Before this year, there were many people I know through work, who refused to put their cameras on during video meetings. Before this year, if I talked about zoom to friends and family, many would not have known what I was talking about. This year, as we all worked remotely, use of technology has helped us to collaborate and work together.

We have used instant messaging systems like Slack and Whatsapp. Our WhatsApp chats have kept us going on many days! We have learnt that putting video cameras on helps us to communicate, but sometimes an old-fashioned phone call works best. We have also learnt about our limits for how many video calls we can handle in one day.

Other tools now in wider use are transcript services like Otter.ai to help with accessibility for videos. Collaboration tools like Monday.com have helped people to work on projects together. What all of this has meant is that leaders have had to embrace all of this technology. And that has changed leadership requirements, as leaders now have to be those who are happy to use technology to work with people.

Leaders of 2021 will not be able to say they avoid technology (yes, I know several who would have said that a year ago!). Tech savvy leaders will be the ones to drive their teams and organisations forwards in 2021 and beyond.

Leaders look and sound different

Much has been said about the female leaders of the world who have led their countries through the pandemic with greater success than many of their male counterparts. As we go into 2021, leaders will look and sound different to the leaders we have been used to in the past.

To be a successful leader will be to embrace different types of people, bringing different skills, experience and behaviours to their teams. In 2021 the organisations who think it’s fine for all their leaders to look and sound similar will be the ones who fail. In 2021 and beyond, it’s those with the vision to embrace difference and all the benefits that diversity brings to a team who will be the ones to create new ideas, new working processes and the ones with the vision to create a better future.

If that all sounds interesting, and a bit daunting, talk to us about how we can help you reimagine what you do to thrive in that future world.