Leadership Practices for 2021

Leaders must shift their mindset and place people and relationships before projects and tasks.

Last summer, I hosted a Virtual Leadership Summit where I interviewed more than 20 thought leaders. Some of them were former CEOs and top executive coaches, while others were influencers. One of the questions I asked each of them was: How do you predict leadership will change in the future as a result of the global pandemic?

A clear theme emerged: COVID-19 has changed the game and put caring for employees’ wellbeing front and center.

Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, said, “We have devalued front-line workers for the last three decades by substituting middle managers and consultants, particularly in healthcare. But the same is true for front-line employees in the airline and restaurant industries and teachers in education. Their compensation should reflect their value.”

Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks International, who also served on the board of directors for 21 years, shared, “There has never been a better time for servant leadership.” Behar’s definition is “the understanding that a leader’s primary role is to help people achieve what they want in their lives—to help them grow as human beings. When you do that well, they want to help you and the organization achieve and grow.”

He continued, “You have to give before you get. You have to trust before you get trust. And empower employees. I like to say that the person who sweeps the floor gets to choose the broom.”


Ron Carucci, co-founder and managing partner of Navalent, works with CEOs and executives on transformational change. “Leaders have had to learn to be vulnerable and realize it is not possible to have all of the answers. For some leaders, COVID-19 has been a crash course in empathy and compassion if leaders took the opportunity. I hope they won’t put these skills back on the shelf when the crisis is over. These characteristics helped people get through this tough time.”

Executive coach Jennifer Nash, Ph.D., shared this perspective: “Styles such as command and control are not effective for organizations in the 21st century. Organizations are ambiguous and complex environments. Leaders must shift their mindset and place people and relationships before projects and tasks.”

The most successful leaders will be those who are human and humane leaders. These leaders realize vulnerability is a strength. Post-COVID, the trend for leadership practices includes communicating and interacting with courage, compassion, and empathy with all employees.

Jann E. Freed, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, coach, and leadership development and change management consultant. Her most recent book is “Leading with Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts” (ATD, 2013). For more information, visit: http://www.JannFreed.com

Jann E. Freed
Jann E. Freed, PhD, is an author, speaker, coach, and leadership development consultant. Her forthcoming book is “Breadcrumb Legacy: How Great Leaders Live a Life Worth Remembering” (Routledge Publishing, 2023). For more information, visit http://www.JannFreed.com