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Six leadership lessons from 2021 to help you lead better in 2022

As you look ahead to 2022, now’s the perfect time to reflect on your leadership, team dynamics and workplace culture to map a course for renewed progress and sustainable outcomes. 

The new year will bring change and ambiguity with unpredictable market conditions, trade tensions, and continued global pandemic inspired uncertainty.  As well, any unresolved issues from 2021 will carry into the new year if left untreated.  

If you want your leadership to be ready, here are six lessons to consider.

Leadership always matters 

It’s in everyone’s best interests for relationships at work to work.  This matters regardless of the workplace context—fully flexible, remote or in the office. 

The employee–boss dynamic impacts workplace productivity and culture, and ultimately organisational outcomes. The Great Places to Work Institute found that trust between managers and employees is a defining characteristic of organisations listed in their annual ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ list. Similarly, Alex Edmans, Professor of Finance at the London Business School, found that the top companies to work for increased their share value by 50 per cent. 

And yet, continued research highlights the leadership deficit. The Gallup report found that 82 per cent of employees see their leaders as uninspiring, and only 15 per cent of employees are engaged at work. Another study found only one in three employees strongly agree that they trust the leadership of their organisation. 

Leadership is about choice.  Your choice either creates a culture of denial and exclusion or an environment of opportunity and inclusion. 

Embrace the unknown 

The last two years are a reminder that there is much that is unknown and unpredictable. Yet, leaders are told constantly to display certainty, making it challenging to express doubt or show vulnerability.   

In an ever-changing world, having all the answers is impossible. Sure, people want their leader to inspire confidence, but they want their leader to be caring, compassionate and authentic.  

Prioritise safety

International studies reveal the increase in mental health issues, with experts warning the ramifications will extend far into the future. This impact has financial consequences, with the World Health Organisation estimating that depression and anxiety cost the global economy over $1 trillion in lost productivity.  

The need to support and promote a mentally healthy workplace won’t diminish. A core part of this is establishing an environment where people feel not just physically safe but psychologically safe, a term coined by Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson. In such an environment, team members trust and respect each other and feel comfortable being their authentic selves. 

You change first 

It’s easy for leaders to see the traits that secured their leadership role as the competencies and capabilities that will carry them forward.   

However, for successful organisational growth and transformation to occur, leaders need to accept that it requires them to change.  

Herminia Ibarra, the Charles Handy Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the London Business School, researched what can hold people, particularly leaders, back as they progress through their careers.   

She found that a person’s experiences and the meaning they confer on those experiences impact one’s sense of self. These are the stories you tell yourself about who you are and what’s happened to you.  Those stories can hold you back.   

She writes: “Consciously or not, we allow our stories, and the images of ourselves that they paint, to guide us in new situations. But the stories can become outdated as we grow, so sometimes it’s necessary to alter them dramatically or even to throw them out and start from scratch”. 

Busy is a trap 

2021 was a great reminder that senior leadership roles are taxing – mentally and physically. Yet many leaders continue to run their lives on adrenalin. They forget that putting their self-care needs first is a critical act of leadership.  

When you are constantly ‘on’ and rushing, you easily miss what is happening around you. Your brain is so focused on the task you can ignore your team’s needs and your own. When you don’t effectively rest and recharge, you will eventually succumb to the pressure. 

Little things matter – a lot 

It’s easy to over-complicate leadership. Building connection and engagement with your team and colleagues is often about the simple gestures, positively and consistently applied.  

For example, take an interest in the people you work with by knowing what matters to them. Pick up the phone and talk to people, rather than a barrage of emails. Don’t regularly cancel one-on-one meetings because your team members feel undervalued when you do this, which can add to their stress levels. Regularly and personally say ‘thank you’ and ‘well done’ to your team for their efforts 

When you are at your best, it feels good. When your team members are supported, they will bring their best self to work each day. When you work well together, you achieve more than you could alone. That’s when the real magic at work happens. 

Michelle Gibbings CMgr FIML is a workplace expert and the author of three books, including her latest ‘Bad Boss: What to do if you work for one, manage one or are one’. 

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