21 Leadership Lessons To Take Away From 2021

Here are 21 leadership lessons to take away from the rollercoaster that was 2021, below have a number of great examples of rethinking problems, solving staff issues and addressing concerns. Other examples included is how not to do leadership and proves all leaders need coaching and mentors. 

  1. Leadership is hard, many of the large businesses got it wrong including Alphabet, Amazon and Apple. We all get it wrong from time to time, in the hybrid work world it is going to be harder. Owning mistakes and communicating the resolve is most important.  

  2. Every leader does it differently, from command and control from Mark Zuckerberg, to principles style discussion-based leadership from the likes of Ray Dalio and manage by press release like Bob Iger. In 2021 going into 2022, we are going to see a continued need to be flexible and provide leadership in the form team members demand, some will need to follow one leader, some will require and be led by compassion, others will need a hierarchy to follow and understand they are being heard and appreciated. Leadership Coaching and Management Team Training are going to be imperative.

  3. Relentless Impact: 2020 and 2021 have been relentless for everyone, particularly for managers and leaders of businesses. The unspoken toll on leaders is an important lesson to coach throughout organisations and help managers of all levels to know you have to be able to handle stress and ask for help and importantly put your own health first.

  4. New Rules: When letting go 900 staff members, rip off the bandaid early and be respectful of the impersonal nature of zoom meetings – CEO has since gone on a break, the ripple effects, however, have continued and has set a bad precedent that many others will, unfortunately, replicate when PR and leadership teams tell others you have to be the alpha and set the tone for the business moving forward.

  5. Local Leadership: As the world adapted to different cycles of covid, local leadership became more important, local leadership roles can be difficult, however across 2020 and 2021 local leaders have usually developed the best plan for their teams locally. Successful and vigilant local GM’s and HR leads have to be given more respect and leadership opportunities in 2022. 

  6. Hybrid Years: Hybrid work has divided everyone, it has highlighted many flaws in companies and management, especially leaders who rely on seeing their teams aka proximity bias and businesses not listening to their staff or customers. 

  7. Smarter Approaches: Many companies took a smart approach to reposition working hybrid and working remotely, Dropbox Studio approach looks at how to know the office is about collaboration but you don’t have to be in the office to be effective.

  8. Rethink Identity: Slack’s digital first identity is clever and future-leaning, it enables their teams to understand they will operate in a digital-first manner but also that it is the future they are seeing and co-building with their software businesses.

  9. TW&T Days? Many businesses started to state they were opting for three days a week hybrid schedules, unfortunately, this led to numerous issues, viral TikTok’s and having to retract numerous statements. Learn to listen, react and stipulate when you will be providing a safe environment and how you are expecting your people to act and perform in and out of the office environment.  

  10. Deliberate Actions Matter: “Being intentional is the ultimate integrity in leadership. It’s stating your values and intentions clearly, then putting your money where your mouth is” — Fidji Simo. CEO – Instacart, Instacart’s leader leading from the front and offering the way we should lead in 2021 and 2022 and agreed that President Carolyn Everson who joined Fidji from her previous company Facebook to leave for the best for both parties. Being open and understand that something is not working out for both parties early on is essential.

  11. Good Comms Wins Every Time: Internal communication is essential and setting up communications and expectations from moment one is imperative – Andy Jassy first memo is a masterpiece that is well worth the read.

  12. New World Of Work: Total commitment from your teams and leadership was always a non-negotiable, although across many businesses this is still a pillar of demands, there are smart business leaders who are seeing the signals and cutting through the noise of the great resignation and knowing that sitting on the fence is ok.

  13. 4 vs 5: Four Days A Week Vs Five Days A Week: Front app took a smart test to introduce flexible Friday’s, Front’s 4 days a week take, allowing their teams to work, take off and work on and off each Friday. When you are looking to help teams with burnout and consider how you rethink the work day and the structure of your work week.

  14. Mental Health Days & Weeks: Bumble allowed each team member to take off an extra week paid vacation this year, this was a move Airbnb have followed allowing each employee to be off from 22nd of December until the 3rd of January. We are likely to see more time off and forward-thinking businesses using mental health breaks as ways to help their staff but also recruit staff. 

  15. Calendar & Time Management: We are set to the same number of hours in a day, many senior executives allowed their calendar to be filled with meetings and did not audit and this behaviour filtered through businesses. One of the most popular newsletters this year was how to run a calendar audit and offered a framework to follow and apply a scoring matrix to get back many hours per week.

  16. PDP Vs 3×3 Matrix: Likewise, personal development plans have always been a struggle for managers to keep up with and influencer their team members to be proactively updating, this two up two across matrix was the most feedback newsletter of 2021.
  17. Manager Vs Director: HubSpot’s co-founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah rightly stated that doubling down on your strengths and not having to be a people leader is a smart move for your business. Leaders have to lead, whether that is with direct reports and being a good people manager (many just aren’t) or that’s directing the future of the company without having dotted lines and big lines of reports.
  18. Metawhat? The metaverse is a narrative big tech is trying to be associated with, even the likes of Microsoft went early and painted the Microsoft metaverse stake.
  19. Show You Know: Google’s it’s ok to manifesto highlighted how one company can get it so right and then so wrong within a matter of days. The Google it’s ok to manifesto is a good base to create your own (this manifesto was influenced from an old NHS manifesto).
  20. DNA Docs? There is a movement towards setting out the DNA of companies, sports clubs are creating DNA documents to set out expectations and the behaviours of the club. Many businesses are starting to learn again from the sports world and apply to their business.
  21. New Intelliegence? Many businesses are not set up to train and prepare their staff for the modern world of work, especially in a world of external review sites, social media posts being written up and embedded, PQ (political intelligence) might just be the skill businesses need to teach their leadership teams. 

Best of luck for 2022 and remember to take these good, bad and ugly lessons forward and share them with fellow leaders to ensure you have a successful 2022.