Leadership in a New Era: What It Is and How to Navigate It

Posted on: January 28th, 2021 by Kristen Miller

Look Within to Cultivate Your Skills and Your Influence

You’ve seen a bad leader in action. 

And felt it, too.

Maybe you worked for a horrible boss. 

Or a subpar manager. 

You remember the feeling. Your lack of energy at work, your poor attitude, the way you were just waiting for something to go wrong. For her to mess something up. Some days you took that bad energy home with you.

It really affected you. Maybe it’s affecting you right now.

We’ve all been there. Early in our careers, and sometimes throughout our careers, we see, feel, and sense what leadership isn’t.

So what is leadership? Solid leadership? Strong leadership?

What is Leadership in 2021?

Gone are the days where leadership is demonstrated by a fancy title, a position on an organizational chart, or a power suit at the head of a boardroom table.  

One of my favorite definitions is by Nick Palumbo, assistant dean of students for leadership at my alma mater, The State University of New York at Geneseo.

Palumbo says, “Leadership is not position-based or trait-based, but relationship-based. Working together with people to get something done is leadership. You can lead from the front, or you can lead from behind. No matter which position or path you take, as long as you are part of a process that moves people toward a common goal, you are a leader.”

This year, more than ever, look within and cultivate your potential, your skills, and your influence. You are a leader. 

“The world is desperate for braver leaders. It’s time for all of us to step up.”

– Brené Brown

A Shift in Leadership Styles

Remember old school leadership? Leading with an iron fist? Commanding from the front? 

Yes, it may have served our forefathers well. But fast-forward to the 21st century, and, well, we’ve evolved. We want to connect with our work and those we are leading on a deeper level, in a more meaningful way.

And leaders have shifted their approach. Well, the good ones have.

“Leadership skills that have been traditionally identified with women like empathy, team building, and collaboration are now more needed than ever.” 

– Arianna Huffington

In my thirty plus year professional career, the leaders I gravitated toward, the leaders I wanted to emulate were empathetic, collaborative, and curated a sense of team.

You value the feeling of being part of something, of belonging. And you want to be part of a team that’s in sync and working day in and day out for a common cause.

It’s been a welcomed shift, for most. More empathy. More collaboration. Even while working from home in socially distanced environments.

This evolved style of leadership has also been said to look like personal agility. 

In a recent Forbes article outlining leadership trends in 2021, Maureen Metcalf, CEO of the Innovative Leadership Institute, shares “there is a need to increase personal agility in all facets of life. We, as leaders and people, need to continue to adapt to a broad range of changes in our personal and professional lives.”

Leaders embrace change, lean into discomfort, and show up for their team. You saw it firsthand in 2020, and it’s a skill (and a trend) that’s here to stay.

“It’s about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”

– Sheryl Sanberg

And in this fast-paced world, one full of rapid change, effective communication between leaders and their team members is key.

How to Communicate Effectively

If you’re anything like me, at the beginning of the pandemic you were over communicating. Sharing information and all the reasons for it, showing up, a lot. Always on. 

And, as things dragged on and on, as you found your rhythm, communication slowed. Sure, it may have been in month four or five, but gosh, you were tired. 

It’s easy to see how communication can fall to the wayside in a short period of time, taking a back seat as you figure out new processes, workload, pivots, and ways of working. 

You’re not alone. You’ve navigated a year of change, of transition, of upending, really. And it’s okay to recognize you have some work to do to improve your communication. We all do.

To find your voice and reconnect with your authentic style of communication, start by building your awareness. Take inventory of what’s working; and what isn’t. Is that mandatory Friday morning meeting draining you and your team? What was it about your last conversation that left you feeling energized and focused? How can you replicate it?

Next, reflect on past mentors, colleagues, or someone you admire. It could be a peer, your boss, an old boss, or even someone you look up to but have never even met. Identify what it is you like about her approach, what you want to emulate. 

Finally, and this often is the easiest part, think of the characteristics or actions that you don’t like when it comes to leaders and communication. Particularly in times of change. What didn’t sit well with you? What did you experience that left you feeling unsupported or lost?

As you reflect, you’ll start to craft a better plan, one where you improve your communication style. And as you do, remember to keep it simple – please, don’t go scheduling a million meetings, a million zoom calls.

Make sure it’s sustainable, for you and your team.

“What you do has far greater impact than what you say.”

– Stephen Covey

The Importance of Authentic Conversations

In the past week, the past month, how many times have you heard the response “okay” when asking a colleague or friend the question, “how are you doing?”

My guess? At least hundreds of  times. And often, we accept the surface response and move into the meat of a meeting, the purpose for gathering.

If that’s the case, I challenge you to make it your mission to truly connect with one person today. A team member. A colleague. A family member or friend.

Look him in the eyes. Ask how he is doing, how he’s really doing. And go deeper. Follow it up with “how can I encourage you?” And listen. Really listen. If it makes sense, follow up with the support he needs or would appreciate.

Leadership is recognizing where your team member is, where she really is, and reassuring her. It’s fully recognizing her as a person, as well as her contribution; and her ideas, reminding her she knows her job better than anyone. 

“Time is the currency of leadership. Spend it wisely.”

– Matt Whiat

It’s finding five minutes, for true connection, deep conversation, without distractions or agendas or lists. And it will empower your people. 

Your time, spent wisely, will encourage your team members to engage in real dialogue. And as you do, you’ll transfer that magic, that ability to connect, to those around you. It will create a more engaged community and culture, one with more authentic conversations. It’s a ripple effect.

Leaders Understand the Significance of Transitions

A secret many good leaders have, and many female leaders excel at: paying attention to and understanding the value of transitions. 

Welcoming a new member of the senior management team? Moving back to an in-person work environment? Adding a new program? Trimming a key focus area to free up resources to invest elsewhere?

All transitions. And all scenarios you as a leader know are significant, requiring your special attention and energy to make successful.  

And then there are personal transitions that happen within your team. Maybe a team member is welcoming a new addition to her family. Or maybe his kids are going back to school full-time. Or maybe she lost someone close to her during a hard, hard season.

All significant transitions. All opportunities for you to connect, authentically. To show compassion and genuine support.

Think back to March 2020. Remember the day your office closed down, the last day you worked in the same space with your colleagues? Maybe you packed up all your stuff, knowing you wouldn’t be back for a week or two. Ugh, bless your sweet, innocent self.

It was a hard transition. Especially when no one really knew how and when it would end and we’d be making the transition back. And for many of us, we are still working remotely, almost a year later. A year later. 

In those early days and as the pandemic stretched on, you either gained a lot of respect for your boss and for the leader within. Or you didn’t. Either way, it influenced your work, your mood, your day-to-day. 

If you’re looking to grow your leadership, your influence, look for the transitions. Big ones. Small ones. Think about how you can value and engage each team member.

“For your own success to be real, it must contribute to the success of others.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

As you do, remember… you are a leader. Your contributions are valued. And this world needs you at your best, at your bravest. 

Community Connections for Children, Inc. (CCC) is a nonprofit centered in the heart of Pennsylvania. They are the backbone of the economy, serving childcare providers and low-income families ‒ the ones that have been impacted the most by the pandemic. 

For you and your business, CCC helps keep childcare options open for your employees ‒ saving missed work hours and lowering on-the-job stress levels. They work with early childhood education programs and home-based providers to improve the quality of care, ensuring that all children enter school ready to be successful.

Christy Renjilian serves as its Executive Director.

To learn more and to donate, visit


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