The events of 2020 were, in some ways, like a parental “time out” for all of us – reminding us to slow down, stop what we’ve been doing and carefully reflect on what’s truly important and how we want to lead going forward. From a leadership perspective, 2020 was a powerful message that we needed to change. “What have we learned?” This is perhaps one of the most salient questions I hear throughout coaching sessions. In working with numerous leaders over the past year, I’ve detected a shift in workplace leadership – a positive one that empowers, trusts, and encourages teams to succeed.

While leadership is evolving slowly across the board, leaders are simultaneously being tasked with managing remote workforces. The shift to remote work is making it trickier for business leaders to immediately implement progressive leadership changes. However, even as we kick off 2021 remotely, leaders must remain aligned and engaged in the year ahead in order to retain clients, employees, and more. Below are a few tips to help leaders as the workplace (as we once knew it) continues to be reinvented.

Purpose first, profit second

For decades, the purpose of a business was defined as a means to a strong bottom line. Whether it sold salty snacks or manufactured widgets, a corporation’s purpose and identity was firmly rooted in financials. 2020 blew that apart – Leaders across many industries are realizing they must redefine their firm’s purpose to be mission-driven first, recognizing that profits will follow.

And, it’s not just a trend. In 2021 and beyond, customers will demand this, employees will require this, and both suppliers and partners will seek this. So, it’s critical to take time with your leadership team to clarify three key areas: values (what will our “operating principles” be as we move forward?), mission (what is our “why”?) and vision (what impact do we want to make in the world?). Make sure these are not simply words that wind up in a presentation, but are truly believed and acted upon. In fact, these are far more likely to come to life if you “co-create” these with your team, customers, and partners.

Life first, work second

Before the pandemic, most businesses that promoted work-life balance did so because they knew very little existed for their employees and felt they had to give it lip service. Again, 2020 flipped this on its head. In the age of 24/7 emails, texts and the “always on” culture, employees and clients are flocking to businesses that prioritize work-life balance. Why? A growing movement in leadership combined with the recent pandemic bluntly reminding us of the brevity and preciousness of life. The keys to creating a work culture that honors work-life balance includes daily practices, boundaries and connection.

Daily practices can include exercising, reading, or creative activities. Leaders should maintain these outlets and encourage others to do the same. That means avoiding the lunch time meeting to promote people settling in from their own routine. It’s also important to support your employees and team members in setting healthy boundaries between their work-oriented activities and other parts of their lives. In addition to putting policies in place, one clever approach I saw recently was an email signature that read, “I respect everyone’s need for boundaries – please do not feel compelled to reply immediately.” And, finally it’s essential to maintain connection. As a social species, we need human interaction and 2020 made that very difficult.

On behalf of your team and organization, consider ways to set up pathways for your employees to connect in creative, engaging ways. At Audira, we love bringing music into organizations as a unique and impactful way for leaders to grow their leadership skills.

Mentoring first, doing second

As leaders, we are notoriously focused on the “doing” part of leadership: problem solving, completing tasks, and achieving goals. In fact, much of our compensation and incentives have been designed to support this kind of focus. The fatal flaw in this approach is the bad leadership behavior it has caused along the way: lack of listening, limited empathy, virtually no humility and struggles with collaboration and accountability. Going forward, the most effective leaders, teams and organizations will be emphasizing the following skills and traits: curiosity (listening), empathy (compassion), humility, adaptability, and accountability. We have to untrain our brains to learn this new leadership style, which can be done through reflection and coaching, as well as a good hard look at the metrics we use to define success.

While 2020 was incredibly challenging in many ways, it has provided an opportunity for powerful learnings that we can all use to drive progressive workplace changes in 2021 and beyond.

Stephen Kohler is founder & CEO of Audira Labs, whose mission is to enable leaders, teams and organizations to amplify their leadership through transformational 1:1 coaching and music-infused team effectiveness development. 

Workplace stock photo by Koldunov/Shutterstock