2021 will require skills that align with methodically recovering from multiple shocks, as opposed to firefighting.
Empathy is never redundant among leadership skills, but crises call for a double dose. Extra empathy boosts the many who are struggling but also feeds much-needed innovation.
Leaders should aim to be flexible too, and this entails encouraging inputs from people who differ from them in background, knowledge, and ideas.
Often lumped together with flexibility but actually, a separate skill is agility. To conquer the art of agility, it’s important to be both flexible and empathetic. There are various different types of agility too.
Empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person. It’s as important in our personal lives as it is in our working lives. You need to get under the skin of many things: business situations, your clients’ needs, and your team members’ motivations among them.
Empathetic leaders will create an atmosphere conducive to all team members expressing their ideas. This will turn potential conflict from team members who differ in terms of gender, culture, personality, and age into productivity.
Empathy also boosts innovation, as it produces the kinds of connections with colleagues that generate it. And innovation has become a must-have as we reshape our business models to weather the crisis.
Flexibility, or a willingness to do things differently, has become the name of the game as we embrace an uncertain year. Flex, or die. It really is that simple. What worked in the past is no longer a recipe for success in the future.
To be more granular, being flexible might entail re-examining our own assumptions and asking for opinions from people who we might not have before. We should actively seek out those with different backgrounds in this quest.
It’s also having the self-awareness to recognize that you are probably invested in the way you work – you’ve developed the habits, knowledge, processes, and technology to do things the way you’re doing them now.
Agility can be seen as the flexibility a company acquires to perform constant balancing acts or pivoting, as engendered by crises. Companies must change their strategies, their business models, and take into consideration many more external factors and trends than they ever before.
In some ways, agility incorporates both empathy and flexibility. This is because it’s both a mindset and a set of practices.
Agility is complex and can be broken down into different types:
- Mental agility, or your openness to other perspectives and to complexity.
- People agility, or your ability to work with diverse people and stakeholders.
- Results agility, or whether you are able to deliver results the first time you are in a situation or in the midst of a crisis.
- Change agility, which is how quickly you can adapt to shifting situations.
Self-awareness, or knowing your strengths and weaknesses and understanding what types of experiences and learnings you should expose yourself to in order to grow.
Decision-making without data is becoming increasingly a thing of the past, across all industries. What does data do? It reduces the prominence of human biases (emotions) in the decision-making process. But it does have its limits and leaders need to grasp what information can be obtained from data and what cannot.
In addition, the purpose of data collection needs to be identified before the process is embarked upon. Too many companies are merely paying lip service to the practice.
You can use data to move forward, by using AB testing and experimentation to show you what’s most effective. And it might well go against your intuition.
Part of the flexibility required this year will be frugality, and that should apply to all areas of the company. Resources need to be used in the most efficient way and appreciating that you really can do more and better with fewer resources.
Companies should not hesitate to start from scratch in terms of budget planning. They should also embrace rolling budgets that are adjusted at various points throughout the year.