Four Key Leadership Themes for 2020

2020 leadership themes

The world around us is changing quickly and becoming more complex.  This is having a profound impact on how each of us leads.  What worked in the past most likely will not work in the future.  These four key leadership themes are foundational to successfully navigating this environment.

From Knowing to Learning

In the past, leadership focused on figuring out a successful approach and then honing it over time.  The goal was to reduce variability.  It relied on the principle that things wouldn’t change much.  Once you solved the problem, it stayed solved.  In a complex environment this no longer holds true.  What worked in the past may not work in future.  It requires us to continuously learn  and in the process be willing to fail.

Leader as Coach

Continuing the theme of not knowing.  Leader as coach is the skill of  engaging in a creative conversation to support the other person to find an answer that works for them.  It relies on the leader being open to new possibilities by asking questions instead of telling.  It means not taking over accountability and instead providing support.  Here is a terrific article about the Leader as Coach.

Embracing Experimentation

When the future is uncertain, to move forward we have to take risks.  This can be very uncomfortable, we don’t want to bet the farm and lose.  We also have to be willing to lose and put the learning to good use.  Successful leaders embrace uncertainty by designing bounded experiments.  This enables them to be specific about what they want to test and how much risk they are willing to take.  Here is another terrific article from HBR about experimentation.

Generating Psychological Safety

The above practices sound great but are difficult to do because they involve taking personal risks.  A critical leadership role is to create an environment where it is safe to be vulnerable and take personal risks.  Amy Edmondson has written extensively about how leaders generate psychological safety.  When you have a safe space, teams challenge themselves to perform at their best. This involves holding each other accountable and other very difficult conversations.  Doing this well is a leadership superpower.

There are many other leadership themes and practices we need to stay abreast of but these four are key.  If you focus on them they will have a multiplier effect on your leadership effectiveness.