By Ann Hackett, Ph.D., CX Bloch Lead

As leaders, we navigated the 2020 crisis and guided our teams through unimaginable challenges. Now, 2021 brings a sense of hope as we anticipate our “new normal.” During this uncertain, in-between period, leaders can set the tone for what’s to come. None of us are 100% sure what the rest of this year will bring. That’s okay. Don’t neglect or dismiss this time. By focusing on timeless leadership principles and practices, we can guide our teams positively into this new future. 

1. Set expectations. 

Trust is a key component of any healthy team and organizational culture. One of the surest ways to build trust? Set expectations. We understand — setting expectations with your team during tough times is difficult. Leaders learned last year that plowing ahead, as if only our work locations had changed, is unreasonable and unrealistic. But today, unspoken expectations of working remotely are now known. Make them clear. Set boundaries that make sense and reflect your organization’s values. Communicate with your team members to ensure you are on the same page. Remember to ask, listen, and respond to their feedback. Trust is a two-way street. 

2. Create an action plan.

Many of your team members are probably curious about the “return” plan this year and how it will affect their lives. For leaders, there may be a temptation to “do nothing” until we know more about the vaccine. Don’t give in to this mindset — it’s time to make a plan. Leaders need to be proactive rather than reactive as we enter this new phase. 

The work world is not going back to pre-pandemic. This post-pandemic world will be vastly different. Find a way to make it even better. As you explore hybrid working solutions, think through how you can maximize new opportunities for improved work/life flexibility. Your top talent wants you to honor collaboration, good communication, and connectedness. Make a plan for how you will deliver above and beyond.  

As you have information on your return plan, communicate it clearly with your team. If you are unsure, let them know that you understand this is important to them. Assure you team members it will be an ongoing dialogue as you know more. 

Speaking of communication . . .  

3. Overcommunicate. 

The pandemic has changed team relationships. Gone are the hallway conversations and water cooler chats. Relationships aren’t the same … they are scheduled. This shift has produced an erosion of trust in many organizations. While teams have remained just as productive working from home, relationships have become transactional. It makes sense — it is a natural byproduct of virtual working. In 2021, we need to focus on improving connectedness and communication. 

How? First, acknowledge where your team is at. Zoom is great — but we also know Zooming can lead fatigue, burnout, and unconnectedness. Leaders need to renew team communications by building trust and communicating in new ways, even while we’re remote. Some examples include informal huddles, chances to chat, sending a digital gift card for lunch connection points. . .  get creative and invest in these opportunities. 

Foster psychological safety through your team communication. Be sure to understand your team members’ preferences, and tailor opportunities for connection around them. Think through how to approach these check ins — no one wants a micromanager. They do want someone who cares about their work success, mental health, and advancement in the workplace. 

4. Be an intentional leader.

Take time for YOU. This year, it’s essential to take time to renew and reflect. You have to role model this as a leader. You set the tone for your team. Have you become transactional with  yourself over the past year? This impacts your leadership and your team. 

Explore questions like >>

  • How was this last year for me?
  • How can I better set expectations for my team?
  • How were my boundaries last year? How can I improve them this year?
  • Am I modeling good leadership for my team? Why or why not?

This year, intentional leadership looks like personal role modeling. It also means intentionally designing the new work life around your organizational culture’s principles. Tap into your team’s desires, fears, and hopes. Be humble. Have critical conversations about healthy work environments – ones that move beyond productivity and transactional relationships. With intentional leadership, create a work culture in which your team can fully engage as themselves. If you do this — your team is set up for success! 

As busy leaders, we understand it can be challenging to take time for you. That’s why CX hosts the Midwest Leadership Summit each year. This year, our theme is “Renew. We are creating space for you to pause, reflect, and renew as we emerge from the pandemic crisis. If you’re looking for encouragement, inspiration, and space to invest in you … join us on June 29. Tickets are on sale now.