A Fresh Slate and Understanding in Leadership

It is 2022 and the proverbial fresh slate lies before us as we pursue and (with hope) achieve many of our goals in the months to come. Some may consider the concept of a fresh slate and the prospect of opportunity to be clichéd but there is undeniable truth to it.

With a new year comes great opportunities and challenges; highpoints and low; trials and triumphs. A fresh 365 ahead, by its sheer possibilities, would energise even the most reluctant of us with anticipation at the prospects waiting to be seized. It would, and maybe it should, but the last 365 cast such a heavy pall on even the most upbeat of us that instead of invigorated, we find ourselves somewhat dismayed.

I think that this is ok. We are only human, after all. But even in being human, in acknowledging how tired the last year may have made us, we have to find that strength to carry on.

It may be an understatement to say that leadership in 2021 was put to the definite test. It was put to task.

As the pandemic’s first full year, 2021 carried over many, if not all, of the substantial disruptions caused in 2020, and amplified them. The shocks and their aftereffects took even greater hold, causing, and even intensifying, many of the world’s problems. But it wasn’t all gloom and doom.

On the brighter side, however, 2021 saw an aggressive vaccination rollout begin across the globe, widespread political, economic, and social reforms, and world leaders coming to the table to knuckle down on climate change and environmental crises matters, giving hope and a course of action in the fight for a better tomorrow. Then we seemingly waited for things to change; for them to get better.

They didn’t in the way that I think many of us hoped they would. The vicissitudes of 2021 were extreme, to say the least. With the vaccination rollout came more resistant and infectious variants of the virus; with the geopolitical changes came reversal of fortunes and status quos, humanitarian crises, and strife; with the climate talks did not come the consensus needed to save our environment as some leaders pushed back on the zero emissions goals.

But even in those changing times, in the stories of 2021 and years before the pandemic, what are we prepared to take away from that? To simply discard last year for all the lumps and bumps, and not take instruction from them, is the gravest injustice.

While I have always looked at leadership as a form of active (and proactive) decision making, at its heart, to me, it really is equal parts charting the best course ahead and understanding the decisions that led to where we are at present.

Understanding is a vital tool in leadership, regardless of the year. But I believe that 2022 will be a watershed year in defining how well leaders can apply their understanding and lead effectively.

I think one of the most difficult lessons leaders around the world have had to learn in the recent past is never underestimate your people and never overestimate your importance. While some leaders have learned this at extreme levels as their people take to the streets in protest and rebellion, on a smaller scale, business leaders have seen this in reduced productivity, decreased staff morale, and high employee turnover.

With a new year comes the opportunity to reconnect with our people, to reverse and possibly prevent current issues from becoming future troubles, to simply check in, if you will, with our people.

Take the effort to understand what is happening with them. Our people are the backbones of our businesses, our communities, and our world.

And our job as leaders must always be to serve for the greater good, making the tough calls for the wellbeing of the people we lead.

It is no secret that the speed of business is blinding. Events happen quickly and decisions have to be made just as fast. The right decisions, mind you. We can always say that hindsight is 20/20, but we are talking 2022, and leaders must continue making the effort to understand how the decisions we make will come to affect us in time...and we must be able to do that today.

I’ll be the first to admit that sounds much easier than it is. But I’ll also admit that achieving this is dependent on our understanding of our people. 2021, under the full brunt of the pandemic, revealed that that we have not lost our ability to band together in pursuit of the common good, in the face of challenge and adversity. We have seen the adage “tough times don’t last; tough people do” in play. Because we have lived it.

As leaders, let us continue to lean into this, making it a tenet for our decision-making processes. Whatever bitter pill we have to swallow today, we know that we will be better off for it in the long run.

If we understand the value and the necessity of our decisions, we will make better ones.

Amidst all the chaos of being a leader, much less, a decent member of civil society, it can be easy to lose ourselves. Sometimes we get so beholden to the job, to our roles and responsibilities, that we forget who we are. We forget why we lead and why we serve. We can forget ourselves in all the madness.

Yes, a leader is many things to many people. But above all else, a leader must be true to who they are. These are our core values.

Core values are not just spin or catchy watchwords employed by organisations. They are the foundation of 21st Century leadership. They are the blueprints of who we are as leaders and as human beings. What’s more, they are the keys to understanding ourselves.

In 2022, our core values should do more than simply define us. They should inspire and drive us to move forward. Reassure and re-centre us in moments of doubt and indecision. Imbue optimism in our abilities and instil faith in those who we lead. Most of all, our core values must continue to be the benchmarks by which we stand and deliver upon our promises and potential in the service of others.

The promise of 2022 may have its seeds in 2021, but its fruits are yet to be seen in years to come. What we know for sure is that, as all that has happened in the immediate past will come to bear in the months to come, the readiness of the effective leader is all.

With a fresh year before us, how are you planning to adjust accordingly? What steps are you taking to better understand your people, your place, your decisions, and yourselves?

The road ahead may be challenging but the promise of a new year cannot be denied. As leaders, before us lies the task of discovering that promise and delivering on it. The key to that, ahead of our journey forward, is understanding…

And a little understanding can go a long way.

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