2020- A year of uncertaintyand reset. The situations in 2020 have exposed our weaknesses, strengths and the need for change in ways few could have predicted.

If we look at the positive side of this global pandemic,it has forced organizations and individuals to pivot and adapt according to the situation we all are in. The leaders are pushed to the point where they must adapt if they want their teams and business to thrive and succeed.

As a direct impact of COVID-19, according to the Society for Human Resource Management survey of 2,000+ members, 2 in 3 employers say maintaining employee morale is a challenge. The same research from SHRM notes 71% of employers say adapting to remote work has been difficult and 83% of employers claim they’re adjusting their business practices in light of the pandemic.

If 2020 was about survival, 2021 will be about fighting back and leadership will play a key role. Let’s understand some leadership key trends that are going to make 2021 a success.

Top Leadership Trends for 2021 and beyond

1. Empathetic leadershipand creating a happy culture in remote teams

No doubt 2020 has been a tough year for all of us and as we step in 2021 all the organizations are trying to be more aggressive and ambitious in their approach and everyone will try to overcome the losses of 2020. In a situation like this, as a leader you will really feel the need to push your team to achieve stretch targets.

But you also need to be aware of the fact the employees have also been through the same difficult phase of uncertainty, ambiguity, social isolation, and you will need to build empathy with your team. And this has become more difficult in remote working, like in earlier times,If you are doing a face-to-face meeting and one of your team members is not participating, you could connect with them and try to understand the issue.We need to follow the same approach in virtual communication. If someone isn’t participating, there’s most likely a reason, so it’s important to check in with them and help them.

On the same front you need to build empathy in your team towards your organization as well. Explain to them the situation your organization is in with complete transparency and let them voluntarily agree to the cause, the larger purpose and be motivated to stretch.

2. Increased need to develop self and other team members

The crisis has forced people to relook at their career path, few were forced to pursue entirely new career paths, or simply re-explore the path they’re on. The employees were pushed to assess their abilities and to figure out what new skills they may need to be relevant to their organization. The positive side of this situation is that it has made all of us a little more accountable for our own development and upskilling. More employees have taken online learning and development courses last year to level up the value they bring to their organization.

A KPMG report found that CEOs view talent risk as the top threat to growth thanks to the pandemic, and “building skills and critical competencies” is the top priority in 2021 for 68% of HR leaders, according to Gartner. What’s more, Deloitte data found that more than half of respondents indicated that anywhere from 50%-100% of employees will need to change their skills over the coming three years.

For this, the organizations need to build a system of continuous learning and skill development within the organization. The leaders would need to the development of their team members and enable them to remain employable and relevant.

3. The remote working trend

Prior to COVID there were many organizations who were really not open to the remote way of working, there were leaders who were reluctant towards the flexible way of working. But 2020 has changed it all, where irrespective of industry or function, every one, overnight, had to work remotely. This created an awareness that remote working is possible without dilution of productivity.Now the home is the new hub or the office for so many employees, irrespective of gender or generation.

Gallup data shows that 65% of workers would prefer to continue working from home post-COVID.

Similarly, IBM found that nearly 85% of respondents surveyed in the middle of 2020 wanted to work at home in some capacity after lockdowns lifted, with 58% saying they wanted their main way of working to be remote.

Also if the organizations want to attract young talent they have to be open about the work from home way of working not as an emergency but as a norm.

Hence it would be prudent for the leaders and the organization to accept this reality and move forward, considering remote working a way of life.

4. Understanding the market and adapting change mindset

If we talk about the economic and social changes that took place, the year 2020 has been tumultuous in that context. There has been a huge shift in consumer behavior across products and sectors. Everyone is more concerned about their safety now.

To stay relevant and to keep your business going, you need to be aware of the evolving consumer trends, and open to innovate. And for that you need to be open for diverse inputs from diverse team members. Inclusive leadership and an open mindset, willing ness to change and evolve will be needed to meet the needs of an evolving market place.

5. Going digital a little more

Digitization has been in trend from quite some time now but last year its demand has taken a huge shift. Because of COVID, we have fast-forwarded 5 years of the adoption of the digital lifestyle. The digital behavior and adoption that has happened because of COVID now would have taken 5 years in a normal course of time.

According to KPMG, 77% of CEOs surveyed will “build on their use of collaboration and communication tools” and 67% are more likely to invest in technology, compared to 33% investment in worker skills.

Similarly, the 2021 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report found that “introducing digital collaboration platforms” is the most important factor in sustaining this new way to work.

Virtual way of working is no longer a supplementary area, it has become the primary driver for most of the businesses nowadays and hence it is very crucial to adapt to this to succeed in the coming years.

6. The remote way of performance management

Performance management in 2021 will be unlike any of the years before.In 2021 it will be one the most crucial aspect of leadership. This year, it will not be just about business results of 2020, but more about resilience demonstrated, upholding of company culture, values demonstrated, and constructive feedback and enabling on how to win 2021.

7. Building Psychological safety in teams

Teams being physically apart have a huge effect on the psychological safety and morale of employeesand hence affecting their productivity. Research shows us time and again that more engaged employees directly translate into higher performing employees. Curiosity, empathy and transparency in every micro-response as a leader, having interactions that are not just work related but also interpersonal will go a long way in strengthening team bonds and psychological safety of team members and make them feel included, safe to contribute, challenge and learn.

Ina virtual environment, regular team meeting, quick check-ins, providing training opportunities or maybe providing a little extra support to those in need of support will really help in driving high performance team culture.

This pandemic has bought on a huge shift in our way of working, opened up a lot of challenges but also on the positive side it has prompted all of us to think out of the box and had provided us with the learning opportunities. As leaders we now have a great opportunity to create a future we want for our organization, and for ourselves. It’s up to us, what path we chart out for ourselves.