Leadership is Changing: Here’s Why

by Bridgette Palm
5 min

2020 has been a year of pivots, one that has demanded a lot of flexibility. It’s been a year that has put leaders to the test in a very public way. As Strategy House leadership, Katie Felten and I have had to reevaluate what’s important and what needs to be prioritized, and we aren’t the only ones.

This phenomenon is being felt by CEOs and leaders around the world. McKinsey & Company studied this change and shared their findings. Here are our takeaways:

The Power of Peer Networking

McKinsey Findings

The McKinsey study found one of the most important changes among CEOs during this time is they are genuinely checking in with one another more than ever before.

Because it’s such a difficult time to be a leader, CEOs are no longer problem-solving in isolation, they are turning to one another to discuss their unique position.

Says Lance Fritz, “Two months ago, the business community was thinking, ‘If we don’t figure out a thoughtful path, we could wallow in this for a long, long time.’ So CEOs started thinking, ‘Let’s learn from each other. Let’s hold hands.’

There’s even a little bit of commiseration. I haven’t put enough value on the ability to be with a couple of other CEOs on one of these Zoom calls, or on the phone, and talk about any number of things that are unique that you can’t talk to anybody else about.”

“Two months ago, the business community was thinking, ‘If we don’t figure out a thoughtful path, we could wallow in this for a long, long time.’ So CEOs started thinking, ‘Let’s learn from each other. Let’s hold hands.’ ”

Lance Fritz

CEO of McKinsey

Strategy House Reflections

As a leader, I understand the full value of connecting with other leaders, more than I ever have. Peer networking has become much more frequent, and an incredibly important resource for me. The CEOs I connect with are sharing their trusted network, providing resources, connections, and advice.

Communicating with other leaders should have always been this important and seamless, but when times are challenging, we fall back on what we trust, and I choose to put my trust in people.

Go Bold or Go Home

McKinsey Findings

The McKinsey study interviewed CEOs have found that one advantage of this time is that operating models (both their own, and their businesses) are in flux, and ready to be reset in a way that will significantly improve efficiency and effectiveness. This will free the burden of slowed decision making and historical norms, and accelerate us into improved models.

More so than any moment in our lifetimes, breakthrough moments arise when leaders dramatically raise their sights and then commit to the operating implications needed to achieve those aspirations.

Strategy House Reflections

Change is our only constant this year. I have come to loathe the term “uncertain times,” but I’ll say this about all of the fluctuation and change of 2020: It has revealed unprecedented opportunities. The magic of this moment is that the many things that people thought impossible are now more probable.

As a leader, this is a moment to recognize that many of the barriers we face are rooted in our mindsets. As the world continues to shift, we will continue to see more big, bold, and daring moves from leaders because they recognize there is room, and demand, for a brand new landscape.

Embracing Stakeholders over Shareholders

McKinsey Findings

CEOs have been embracing this cultural shift for a few years now – their companies’ obligations to shareholders should not come at the expense of stakeholders, including their employees, customers, suppliers, and community at large.

The pandemic has brought this perspective to the forefront in powerful ways. CEOs are giving more of their attention to their team and community in order to nurture those connections and open the door to fresh opportunities.

Strategy House Reflections

This is exactly why our team’s work became increasingly in-demand at the turn of COVID – we’ve had to focus our clients on how they are giving back to their stakeholders — not just the ones who hold shares, but their employees and local communities.

This has been our call for years: embrace stakeholders, not just shareholders. It’s never been more true than it is at this moment. Your customers, your employees, and your community have an opinion of your brand, and especially now, their opinion holds weight. Leaders are investing in strategies to improve their brand perception among key stakeholders this year.

Presence is as Important as Execution

McKinsey Findings

CEOs traditionally focus on execution, but in 2020 leaders have had to acknowledge that now, there’s more reason to focus on how they show up for their team. To be (or to “live”) your values is just as important, if not more important than to do.

David Schwimmer, CEO of London Stock Exchange Group, says “People are looking to me for a different kind of leadership. In a normal environment, it’s about business leadership and setting up strategy, as well as culture and people decisions. In this environment, it’s about helping people maintain morale. It’s about people being prepared for whatever may come in the face of uncertainty.”

Strategy House Reflections

As a leader, sometimes you need to take a moment to remember to focus on being instead of just do, do, do. In today’s climate, my presence as a leader is just as important as what I accomplish.

Employees, customers, and the community are paying attention to how businesses respond right now and those responses have to come from leadership. The CEOs who have stood out this year are the ones who prioritize their people, who show up as human, and are showing up for their team.

2020 and Beyond

It’s been a challenging year to be a leader, and I feel honored to be surrounded by incredible leaders who I’ve witnessed rise up and thrive in an admittedly difficult environment. Based on my experience, McKinsey nailed these key shifts in leadership.

But I’ll take it further and say that I don’t think these are temporary.

I don’t think these changes will rubber band back on December 31, 2020. The way we lead has changed to reflect the way the world has changed, and I for one think many of these are changes for the better.

Bridgette Palm
Bridgette has developed a career around content. Her work as a writer and editor began nearly ten years ago, and since she has harnessed her experience working as a ghostwriter for business owners to develop marketing strategies that connect businesses to their ideal audiences through content. When not devoting her eye to content revision and development, she can be found reading, enjoying the diverse and delicious Milwaukee restaurant scene, or taking long road trips to explore America.