Four Leadership Themes for 2021

2021 Leadership Themes

At the start of 2020, I set out what I thought would be four important leadership themes for the coming year.  Like everyone else, I had no idea what lay ahead and in hindsight I would have changed my list.  That said, the four leadership themes below were relevant and you can check out that post here.

2020 Leadership Themes

  • Knowing to Learning
  • Leader as Coach
  • Embracing Experimentation
  • Generating Psychological Safety

Looking ahead to 2021, we are definitely a lot wiser about what could lay ahead.  I do think 2021 will turn out to be a lot more positive than 2020.  I also believe what we learned in 2020 will still be very relevant in 2021 and beyond.  Accordingly, these four leadership themes became especially important in 2020 and they will remain so in 2021.


We were reminded in 2020 that things rarely turn out as we planned.  When the pandemic struck, many businesses ground to a halt trying to figure what was going on.  Most reacted by tightening spending, trying to control their situation.  As we progressed into the summer, many business leaders realized the need to adapt to a new environment that wasn’t going away any time soon.  The businesses that embraced adaptability learned to thrive.  They didn’t get it right first time but by doing something, they learned and that put them on the path to success.  This approach is key beyond the pandemic as the world is getting less predictable as it becomes more complex.  We need to learn and adapt through doing.

Focus on Outcomes

How and where people get results will vary significantly, the key is supporting however they do it.  It was remarkable how relatively smoothly the overnight shift to working remotely occurred last year.  I’m not sure how many people will return to the office.  My guess is we will see much more flexible working arrangements, both in terms of where and when works gets done.  It was easier for leaders in the past to direct how their teams got things done.  They were surrounded by their team members.  Going forward, many will be remote and to manage them effectively, it is critical the manager and team member both have a very clear and aligned understanding of what success looks like.  Gallup published results of a survey that showed 50% of employees are unclear on what is expected of them.  In a remote working environment, this is a disaster waiting to happen.

Focus on Purpose

After a year like 2020, many people have a much stronger sense of what is important to them.  With the ease of remote working, they are better equipped than ever to choose who they want to work for.   The internet has also provided consumers with a vast array of choices.  Leaders need to be very clear who they are serving and who they are not, we can’t be all things to all people.  This means expressing a very clear and compelling purpose that describes both a vision of the future and why it is important.  People need to know whether this is the right bus to step onto.  If it isn’t, they will leave quickly.

It’s About the People…

Saving the most important one for last.  Your ability to engage the people around you (whether they work for you directly or not) is critical.  As mentioned above, they will have more choice and opportunity to work for who, where and when they want.  People are a business’s most important asset.  Attracting and retaining the best people, and getting the most out of them is key.  If you can do this, you are building a strong competitive advantage that will be sustainable for many years.  These people will attract others like them and your working environment will become even more of a competitive advantage.

In addition to the 2021 leadership themes, there is a much bigger question we need to address.  What is leadership and what is the leader’s role?  Until I understood this, it was too easy to get in my own way.  Here’s an excerpt from my upcoming leadership book outlining what leadership is and what leader’s do.  Access the link to receive your copy.