Leadership Development for a New Normal

By Molly Penn and Marita Phelps

How much of your time is spent managing others instead of leading change? Bestselling business and leadership author and entrepreneur, Seth Godin, describes management as a mandatory practice and leadership as voluntary. While managers aim to keep their workforce under control, leadership is about inspiring possibility.

 Are you ready to move from a place of managing people to leading with influence?

New Year = New Normal

No doubt leadership development looks very different today than it did a year ago. Here are some of the trends we see emerging in 2021 and some questions for reimagining your agency’s leadership strategy.

Distributed vs. Positional leadership We used to think of leadership as the exclusive purview of senior staff.  In a world where we are being called to consider the systemic barriers to equity we are now challenging organizations to create structures that allow staff at all levels to express and practice leadership, which is defined by these critical skills:

  • Critical thinking skills – the ability to analyze an issue, process, system or outcome and make a judgment about its effectiveness.

  • Advocacy – the ability to recommend solutions to problems.

  • Consultation – the ability and discernment to seek advice from those closest to the problem or who have important perspectives on how the problem fits into the overall system.

  • Decision-Making – The ability to reach well-reasoned decisions based on information from analysis and consultation.

  • Inspiration – the ability to inspire others to buy into the decisions reached.

  • Conflict-Resolution – Conflict is a natural part of human systems.  The ability to navigate conflicts is highly important to a well-functioning system.  This skill is closely related to risk-taking and allowing for failure – both of which are critical for distributed leadership.

Leadership is about instigating change.  Leadership has  traditionally been thought of as a role that belongs only to senior leaders, but as organizations grow and develop, senior leaders get farther and farther away from where problems originate and therefore being able to understand the solutions required to make meaningful change. Organizations in 2021 and beyond should be structured in ways that anyone in the organization can change things that are not working well.

Authenticity – There has historically been a dividing line between our “work selves” and our “personal selves.” However, the Pandemic has caused us to drop the veneer of “professionalism” (white normativity) in favor of bringing our authentic selves to work.  The thinking that if we wear certain clothes, or style ourselves in certain ways or speak using buzzwords we are smarter or better at our jobs or more promotable are inherently white norms that don’t lead to an equitable culture.  At the same time, zooming from home due to the pandemic means we can no longer pretend we don’t have kids or pets or a personal life.  If we can redirect all the energy that went into maintaining those veneers, we can apply it to the work at hand, helping our colleagues and helping the people our organizations exist to serve.  Leadership in 2021 and beyond is characterized by someone who is authentic and able to inspire others to join their cause.

The Reemergence of Values – Values are critical to supporting a work environment where people can be authentic and exercise leadership at any level.  Values tell everyone in the system the critical behaviors that are necessary to function well in the system.  Values align people around what is sacred and what is not allowed.  Does your organization have a set of articulated values?  If so, how well known are they?  How much a part of daily life are they?  Values should underpin everything from job descriptions to performance reviews to outcomes measurement.  They should be expressly woven into every facet of organizational life to ensure people have guidelines for appropriate behaviors.  Last but not least, we prefer to think of values development as an inclusive process involving staff in various areas of the organization.  They should represent staff holding each other accountable for how the work gets done.  In fact, we would argue that the pandemic and the political events of 2020 should inspire all of us to reexamine our values and update them to the concerns of today.

Leadership development in 2021 must focus on new skills to ensure performance success for your people and organization. Critical skills (formerly known as “soft skills”) such as communication effectiveness, interpersonal savvy, and learning will be more important than ever before. Add to this list resiliency, empathy, and flexibility—the behaviors necessary to thrive in a climate of ongoing change.

Complete a leadership skills audit to determine where you are today, where you want to go, and how you can get there:

  • What skills are critical for your people to thrive in this new normal?

  • What skills do your leaders currently have?

  • Which of these skill gaps will you focus on closing in the coming 12 months?

  • What development experiences will you create to bridge these gaps?

Developing leaders of the future

Many would say the future of work is here, having arrived in one fell swoop through the transformations this year has spurred in our people, organizations, and society. Yet with so much disruption comes plenty of opportunity to reset your vision and reimagine how you will achieve your mission.

Organizational change is certainly never easy, but it is not going away. And your talent is perhaps the most important piece of the change puzzle. Part of creating a people-centered culture is prioritizing leadership development for all of your staff.

At PENN Creative Strategy we provide both cohort and personalized executive leadership coaching, with a focus on helping your agency develop strong leaders, able to blaze a trail towards positive organizational change. We help you stay focused on the change you envision for your leaders. Here’s how.

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