2020: Looking Back to Move Forward
It’s hard to believe, but 2021 is upon us. We can all agree that 2020 has been a year like no other: we’ve grappled with a pandemic that has exposed our health and economic vulnerabilities, dealt with divides in our country including sustained protests against racial injustice and a contentious national election, and we’ve adapted to new ways of connecting with friends and colleagues virtually.
Four Big-picture Ideas for Leaders to Consider
As we look towards the new year, we reflect to look forward. Through our observations, research and discussion, here are four big-picture ideas in leadership that stand out to us as crucial for leaders in 2021.
- Think in systems: At Nebo, we believe that leading change requires seeing systems, not just focusing on problems. This has never been more true. We will only be able to break through deep societal issues such as a broken public health system and systemic racism by stepping back to take a look at the complete picture. The same holds true for organizational leaders. To guide our organizations through complex conditions, change leaders must understand internal and external influences, interrelations, and dependencies and have the courage and the stamina to work with competing priorities, ambiguity and resistance to new ways of doing things. While a systemic view can be daunting, it also lends great perspective and helps us select the strategies that will make a difference where we need it most.
- Diversity strengthens organizations: The murder of George Floyd shocked the country and opened the eyes of many that systemic racism persists, along with its deadly and unjust consequences. Many organizations, including Nebo, have taken a stand for a future that is different from the past. For organizational change leaders, building a different future requires real commitment and action as well as a recognition that the issue is both moral and strategic. It requires a review of policies and processes with an eye out for equity, recognizing that many minorities don’t get a seat at the table because they are actively or passively denied the opportunities and relationships needed to advance. Change leaders can commit to diversity through mentorship and sponsorship programs. Sponsorship programs in particular help to build a stronger leadership pipeline and are often used to support and create opportunities for women and people from underrepresented groups. Sponsorship involves active support and advocacy by a senior leader. When organizations actively seek and welcome diversity at all levels of the organization, they open the door to cutting edge results, a distinctive culture and experiences that inspire loyalty and commitment.
- Culture carries the future: Leaders pay a great deal of attention to strategy. However, as notable MIT psychology professor Edgar Schein wrote in his book Organizational Culture & Leadership, “culture determines and limits strategy”. Change leaders must attend to culture since culture is a reflection of the trust needed to move forward and lead change. Look no further than CEO Satya Nadella’s transformation of Microsoft. Today, this is compounded by the fact that public trust in institutions across society (e.g. government, science, business) continues to decline. Organizational leaders have an obligation to counteract this erosion of trust by focusing on mission, meaning, and purpose, and crafting a vision that honors the past, recognizes the reality of the present, and inspires the future. Neglecting culture will undermine or negate the most fine-tuned and well-considered strategy.
- Distributed is the New Norm: We are living, learning, and working in a distributed world. That won’t change. Consider this: according to a 2018 global study by the International Working Group, 70% of professionals worked away from their office one day a week and over 50% worked more than half their week away from the office. And this was before the pandemic. Covid has accelerated the work-from-home trend, and we’re not going back. In many industries, as McKinsey points out, organizations must reimagine the office and work after Covid. For change leaders, this means re-thinking presence, learning to communicate across different channels, and bridging many different types of distance (geographic, temporal, cultural, linguistic, contextual and configurational). It also means a greater emphasis on mindfulness across the organization.
A World of Possibility
Whether we know it or not, 2020 will shape our futures. And for those leading organizations small and large, the impact of 2020 will shape their thoughts, options, and actions for the foreseeable future.
When we look ahead, we see a world of possibility to craft a future better than the past. At Nebo, we stand at the ready to support our clients and partners. Contact us if you would like to learn more.