New Year, New Normal, New Me (You)

Happy New Year!

Without a doubt we have had an interesting, if not challenging, year in 2020. Regardless of how it turned out for us, most of all, I am grateful that we are all here in this New Year to continue a course well started – a course to great leadership.

It has been said that some years ask you questions, while others give you answers. While we may never agree as to which 2020 was, I am sure many of us will admit that last year quickly became a proving ground as the pandemic fundamentally changed the ways we operate, interact, and live.

It certainly gave some of us fits and conniptions, left others in doubt and anxiety, and, most unfortunate of all, took many of the people we love most away from us.

It was by no means a great year but the New Year is here, and with it come the hopes of many that we would have collectively turned a corner in the 12 months or so that the virus has dominated our lives.

The year, in true fashion I would suppose, ended on a mixed note as, while two vaccines had been approved and dispatched to the public, a new, faster spreading variant of the virus appeared in both the UK and the US.

Cautious optimism seems to be the order of the day as we adapt to the ever changing conditions and adjust our bearings accordingly. But thankfully, a New Year always brings with it a fresh start and the opportunity to take a brand new 365 days and try again and anew.

Are leaders, therefore, in our professional and personal resolution making expected to be likewise cautiously optimistic? Can we afford to be? Especially in time when risks and opportunities abound like never before?

In talking today about how leaders can best position themselves and their teams to make the most of these opportunities, is critical that we, in our planning, give careful thought to including these five goals in our resolutions for 2021.

1) Respect Our People; Serve Them Well

The best leaders treat their teams and their stakeholders with kindness and respect. They demonstrate empathy not solely as a nuanced character trait or through inspirational (and sometimes not so inspirational) shared memos and missives.

Instead, the best leaders demonstrate empathy as a genuine aspect of who they are AND what they do.

That is why it is important that in the New Year we stay mindful that our people don’t work for us or for the company. Rather it is we who work for them.

So, in this new beginning, circle back to your first beginnings; those points in time when you decided to serve and then try to rediscover how and why our first real steps in becoming great leaders were in accepting that we must first be great servants.

Part of that service often involved placing ourselves in our teams’ shoes; in that basic understanding that it has been a trying time for all of us – leader and employee alike. Just because we have drawn the curtain on one of the most trying years in recent history, doesn’t necessarily mean that our employees and stakeholders think that way. We are all in this together. Remember that always.

As the New Year unfolds, economies and fortunes will continue to change, threats and challenges will continue to mount, but opportunities to excel will always present themselves. Leaders aiming for excellence will strive to keep teams motivated, understanding above all that that motivation is going to be the deciding factor in whether we achieve success or not.

It’s going to be an uphill battle to be sure. Employee loyalty and enthusiasm may be at an all-time low. Frustration, conversely, at an all-time high. Worst of all, doubt and anxiety ever present, worming their way into our teams’ lives.

In the New Year, it is critical that leaders continue to work with their teams in combatting these negative influences which are always deleterious to progress.

Most of all, as leaders we need to embrace the fact that our teams, whom we serve, are going to need our leadership, motivation, and support.

We don’t lead from the back or from above. We lead from the front and alongside.

What will often keep our teams productive and cohesive is not simply adequate pay or perks; it will be the leadership. If we, as leaders, understand and embrace this fact, we will get so much more from our teams. Additionally, and more importantly, our teams will come to trust and believe in us more as having their interests at heart – once they see that we are here to serve and to lead.

2) Improve the Ways We Communicate

This goes hand in hand with serving our teams better. Communication is always the key to unlocking our teams’ greatest potential. However, we are not only talking about those motivational messages that we share with our teams or the different media channels we use to do this.

Communication is a two-way street. As good as a leader can be in talking with his or her teams, they must be even better at listening.

So, be patient. Be open and receptive. And listen more.

On that same note, I want us to take a moment to relook at the way we meet.

The rise in remote meetings in 2020 signalled yet another paradigm shift in the way we connected with our teams and each other. What’s more, as we complied with social distancing protocols and moved away from in-person meetings, we increasingly relied on digital platforms as a way of keeping in touch.

On the one hand, these platforms made it easier for us to work together, however, on the other hand, they also presented a golden opportunity to revisit the way we actually interact with our teams.

Sat behind our individual desks and computer screens, spanning significant distances, we met with our people. And in that process, I believe that we developed a deeper appreciation for our traditional ways of meeting because we had “lost” them. We were no longer able to meet in person so we met virtually.

But, as the saying goes, “You never miss the water until the well runs dry.”

In the New Year, let’s take it a step further. Let’s recognise how crucial that water of communication is even before we start seeing the bottom of the well.

That water, the ability to communicate, must never run out of our organisations. Make it count.

We can scale back the meetings instead of replacing traditional methods with digital ones. We can introduce some fun and light-heartedness into our virtual meetings; making each meeting more engaging. We can keep them simpler, more to the point, and less disruptive to our day-to-day organisations.

In other words, don’t think of this aspect of the New Normal as a pound for pound replacement to the ways of old. Adapt them. Change them. Make them work in ways that their forebears could not or did not.

3) Fix What You Can

The economic slowdown of the past year definitely left its mark on the face of businesses and their operations. It should come as no surprise that those impacts will undoubtedly carry over into the new one.

Many businesses were severely affected and quite a few were unable to sustain themselves (and their people) during the difficult times and were forced to shutter their operations – some temporarily, others permanently.

For those somewhat in the middle of things, significantly impacted but still able to operate as they navigate these stormy times, one thing became clear as we settled into the New Normal – Life Goes On.

Regardless of the circumstances or the effects that they have had on businesses, leaders have had to always keep moving forward. In 2020, the best leaders and teams were able to take a long, honest look at their operations, identify the challenges, strengthen and build resources, and most of all, work on fixing things with an eye to not just remedying an issue but toward creating the blueprints to do better…to be better.

In 2021, as leaders, we can take more honest looks at our operations. This relook can take many forms including improving strategic information flows to our teams to ensure that we are all pulling in the right directions, revisiting our mission statements and core values with an eye to making them mean more and be more in touch with the present.

It can go as far as increasing in-house training at all levels, eliminating many of the “nice to dos” and focussing more on the “need to dos”, and even reorienting our organisations toward greater sustainability and sustainable development and to capitalise on future opportunities possibly in other markets.

Fix what we can. It’s not going to be easy. But it’s going to be worth it.

4) Think Big, Think Holistically

We don’t operate in a bubble. Our success, professionally and personally, is as dependent on those around us as we are dependent on them. It is therefore very important that we explore all avenues to assist those around us. Let us seek to broaden our sphere of influence beyond our immediate interests.

Now more than ever before, ALL of our stakeholders’ survival (if not success) must be taken into account as we develop and execute our plans in the New Year. Our stakeholders include our staff; our shareholders; our clients; our suppliers; the communities in which we live and work; the charitable organizations that provide support to the less able/more needy in society; the government and the climate. This list is not exhaustive and we should all sit down and develop our own list of stakeholders, whose interests we will take into consideration as we traverse the demands of 2021.

2020 has highlighted the need for resilience and responsibility in our actions and accentuated the criticality of the United Nation’s sustainable development goals. There are 17 such goals and if, in 2021, we commit ourselves to making a positive difference to even one of those goals, we will be setting an example for others and building a foundation for the future.

5) Never Compromise but Be Flexible

The last. Simple but difficult. With all that happened in the last year, it became a real challenge for many to hold fast to the plans we made to improve our businesses and ourselves. And in the process, many leaders were forced to compromise just for the business to survive.

While compromise is often seen as a sign of weakness or giving in, I would rather that we be more understanding and compassionate of those of us who have had to make the unpleasant choices for the sake of the greater good.

Taking a page from some of the best leaders of the past year, much has to be said for those with the ability to adhere to their general plans, ever mindful of prevailing conditions, and were still able to adapt and adjust to suit.

This skill is going to be of paramount importance as we stride into 2021.

Make the plans. Stick with them. Talk with our teams. Adjust where necessary. Most of all, stay the course as best as you can.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “The best thing about the future is that it gets here one day at a time.”

The future we envision for our businesses and our teams is no different. It is going to gets here one day at a time.

I am looking forward to what 2021 brings for all of us. And I am most certainly looking forward to hearing from you as we chart that course…together.

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