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Phew – what a year that was. If you’re feeling pretty relieved that 2020 is finally behind us, you’re in good company.

As we head into the New Year with a Covid-19 mass vaccination programme underway, 2021 is already looking distinctly more positive than its predecessor. The coronavirus pandemic is far from over, of course, but we can now have reasonable hope that the odds have shifted in our favour.

Leadership challenges lie ahead

So, what next for the business world? For those who have survived the slings and arrows that 2020 threw at us – and what Goliaths it brought down – 2021 is the time to stop dwelling on the past and look firmly to the future. The virus-related challenges are not going away for months, possibly years to come, but the pandemic has held us back long enough.

Last spring Covid-19 took us all by surprise and turned 2020 into a year of survival, of learning how to cope, of just getting by until conditions improved. Now, nearly a year on, the role of our business leaders needs to change. It’s time to start growing and moving forward once again, despite the continuing restrictions and uncertainty.

Thrive, don’t just survive

If you’re a business owner, leader or manager, you probably spent much of the last 12 months making difficult decisions. These will have primarily concerned health and safety; how to protect your employees from the virus while keeping your business alive too. Now, given the fact that our old ‘normal’ is some way off and may never return in full, I predict that leaders’ key decisions this year will centre on how to move onto the next phase of recovery.

Depending on your industry, performance and productivity may have taken a hit while the world adjusted to extraordinary times. Those times are not quite over, but your business cannot languish on life support forever. While we’re living with a new (or current) normal, how does your business need to respond? Does your leadership style need to change as you move on from survival mode?

Out with the old, in with the new

Most of us now know a lot more about pandemics than we did a year ago. We know about the impact a lockdown has on our businesses in particular and on our communities in general. We’ve found out about the strengths and weaknesses of our teams, our technology and our working processes. We’ve learned how our businesses react to adversity and what we can do to mitigate the effects of future waves, or even future pandemics.

Those in management probably also learned more than they expected to about the roles that compassion, empathy and human contact play in running a successful business.

Now we need to put that knowledge into practice, in order to level up in 2021. That knowledge has been painfully earned and it may yet lead to painful decisions. But knowledge is power – it gives us greater freedom to think creatively and understand the importance of staying agile in a shifting business landscape.

It’s safe to assume that this year will present just as many, if not more, difficult decisions for business leaders as last year did. These will necessarily concern finance and logistics, but the experiences of 2020 should also prompt some self-reflection for leaders and managers. Consider asking yourself these questions:

How did the public health emergency test our leadership skills?

Did we perform well enough?

Have we equipped our staff with the right skills and support to drive the business forward?

Would our employees agree?

What lessons can be learned for the future?

In short, 2020 asked a lot of questions of us all. Now is the time to answer them honestly and use that information to make good decisions for the future of our businesses, our employees and our communities.

Looking to develop your leadership potential?

Leadership & management is about more than just decision-making. The best business leaders arm themselves with the information they need to make good decisions. Whether it’s meetings, interviews or team dynamics, there’s always something to learn, and somewhere to improve.

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Mark Fryer

30th December 2020