A Leadership Shift for 2021


By Stevan Jackson, Vistage Private Advisory Group Chair, West Midlands

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it
.” President Dwight D Eisenhower


There are as many definitions of leadership as there are commentators on the subject, but the quote from ‘Ike’ is one of the most succinct.  Much is made of the nature/nurture argument, about whether leaders are born or made.  The most obvious answer is that some people find leadership a more natural state of mind than others but that doesn’t necessarily make them better leaders than those who must work at it a bit more. History is littered with examples of charismatic leaders who have led their followers to an outcome that has been neither what they wanted or needed. There is no black art in leadership, it can be learned, practised, and polished by anyone who is prepared to make the effort, as with any other aspect of our professional life. Never has that been more obvious to the current generation of business leaders.


What this pandemic has done is remind us that we live in a world where uncertainty is permanent. COVID-19 has required business leaders to adapt to leading in different ways that demand certain skills and approaches. In my Vistage practice, I see leaders responding daily to the challenge of leading their teams in new ways. Considering the importance of employee engagement on business outcomes, leaders must invest in their leadership knowledge and skills to get the best of out of their teams. That has always been true and is not confined to the exceedingly difficult challenge we face.


Here are seven areas that every business leader could focus on to improve performance:


1. Model the way

To model the way, leaders need to be clear about their personal values and philosophy and express them in a way that leaves no doubt about what they believe in. Exemplary leaders set a personal example for others by their attitude and behaviours. They always deliver on their promises and commitments and live the values they champion.


2. Inspire a shared vision

Effective leaders create a compelling vision – where we are going and how we are going to get there together – that people can buy into and use to guide their attitudes and behaviours.  Through inspiring vision, leaders can challenge others to transcend the status quo, visualise positive outcomes in the future, communicate them to other team members and play a full role in achieving the company’s desired outcomes.


3. Challenge the process

Challenging the process means being curious, willing to change the status quo and step into the unknown.  It includes being willing to innovate, grow and improve. Exemplary leaders are like pioneers – they experiment and try new things. They are willing to take calculated risks and are not afraid to fail – from which comes learning and improvement. 


4. Show empathy

If employees feel that leaders care about them, they will be more engaged and more inclined to give of their best. Outstanding leaders are highly effective at building trust within their teams by showing empathy and promoting collaboration. Teamwork and cooperation come from listening closely to diverse points of view and treating others with dignity and respect. Empathetic leaders encourage their people to make informed choices and then support the decisions their teams make. Empathetic leaders create an environment where people can feel good about their work and understand how it contributes to the greater community. A survey of 15,000 business leaders by Development Dimensions International found a link between enhanced empathy and leadership performance.


5. Care about your people (and show it)

Research in the UK has found that “stress, depression or anxiety” were responsible for 44% of all cases of work-related ill health and more than half of all working days lost. There is evidence that these issues are exacerbated in times of crisis, which is why effective leaders make it a priority to encourage and promote the physical and mental wellbeing of their staff. This can include simple actions such as ringing isolated employees regularly and asking, ‘how are you – what can I do to help?’  Focussing on employee wellbeing can create an engaged and healthy workforce. In companies with this culture, employees tend to enjoy better relationships with their bosses, higher personal wellbeing, and more job satisfaction.


6. Celebrate success

It is natural for people to want support and for their work to be recognised.  Effective leaders are highly attentive to this need and are willing to give praise to people for a job well done. Using authentic celebrations and rituals to show appreciation and encouragement to others is essential and can lead to improved collective identity and community spirit.


7. Communicate, communicate, communicate

The key to effective team-working is communication – especially with a dispersed workforce. In that regard, team meetings to agree objectives, to expose disagreements and resolve them by open discussion are essential. These are real hallmarks of effectiveness. This is a good point at which to reflect on how often do you participate in team meetings and how well led are those team meetings?  Even teams that hold regular meetings will achieve little if there is too great a power gradient between the leader/s and members of the team. Effective leaders will allow themselves to be challenged and respond in a constructive way to contribute to the personal development of their team members and for the sake of business improvement and better outcomes.


There is unwavering pressure on leaders to figure everything out alone and uncertain times call for agile leaders. That’s why Vistage are proud to provide a platform where high-performing business leaders can safely talk about their challenges, fears, questions, and opportunities with peers and make better decision; grow their business and have a better work-life balance. After all, “not one of us is as clever as all of us”. In this pandemic, that could be the difference between thriving or just surviving. For more information about Vistage please contact me at [email protected] 

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