What makes an effective senior leader in 2021?

May 13, 2021

TL;DR: Managers who can uphold process and be open to creative thinking will thrive in today’s fast-paced work environments. Similarly, those who can strategically manage their teams’ attention (and their own) will stand out in a chaotic, unfocused time.

The big challenges for leaders in 2021

Every leader or manager faces unique challenges that vary by industry, career stage, and set of individual circumstances. But in 2021, many––if not most––of those challenges come from two root causes:

These are very of-the-moment problems, and will only become more of a strain on managers in the following months and years as the pace of work accelerates even further.

Of-the-moment problems require of-the-moment solutions. For the leader looking to get the best out of their team in 2021, this means, first, finding balance between structure and agility––and second, being very purposeful about where they put their attention.

How leaders create stability and maintain creativity (even in fast-changing times)

The first problem, rapid change, requires finding a way to both foster efficient, long-standing processes and be ready to make quick-thinking adjustments. We touched on this a little in a previous piece about how, to succeed in their roles, managers often need to––counterintuitively––find freedom in structure and process.

If this sounds oxymoronic, well, it’s meant to be. At least a little. There’s an inherent tension in the day-to-day work of managing a team. And it does often feel oxymoronic, at its core.

This is because, as leaders, we need to create the stability necessary for our teams to have a great grasp on key processes, functions, and goals. Yet we also need to leave room for creativity, quick thinking, and pivoting when new information comes our way or new situations arise.

Great leadership is often about finding a happy medium. Coming through on deliverables and deadlines while also navigating the nuance of interpersonal relationships with reports and colleagues. Upholding workflows and structures while also staying flexible as inevitable changes come our way.

There are lots of industries where this balance between structure and agility has been a big part of the day-to-day work since the beginning. Industries as disparate as comedy and medicine offer an interesting “laboratory” for exploring this balance and provide many intriguing case studies for managers in any field.

Seeking to help managers better understand this tension in our work, Nomadic created a Program based on insights from stand-up comedy, the advent of the doctor’s visit, and the Agile movement. Called Management II, Structure + Agility, this course helps managers at all levels understand our processes, become more effective, and lay out a road map toward continuous improvement.

Learn more about Management II: Structure + Agility here.

How senior leadership can stay focused––when everything’s competing for attention

The second problem––the many demands on our focus and attention––probably comes as no surprise to anyone who’s been on the Internet lately.

It’s increasingly clear that attention is one of our most valuable resources. For managers in particular, the question of what information we should pay attention to––and how much attention that information demands––can become a major day-to-day strain.

And there’s the issue of protecting our team’s time and attention, too. This includes making sure our reports have enough space to cultivate the creativity and learning that helps them do deep and groundbreaking work.

It’s a big ask, but helping our teams ignore the noise and sustain the right strategic focus is one of the most important things we can do as leaders.

With this in mind, Nomadic created a Program focused on cultivating great time and attention practices. Management III: Time + Attention explores key skills that will help our teams succeed.

Strategically managing attention is an issue managers in the most fast-paced arenas have faced for a while now. Leaders at major companies like Microsoft and Accenture have strategies and solutions that can serve managers everywhere as the pace of work continues to accelerate.

That’s why we made sure this Program gives managers an opportunity to learn from top leaders in their field––the ones who have been thinking about these skills and strategies for a long time. This includes voices like:

In Field Manuals on subjects like Focus, Communication, Stakeholder Management, and Learning, these leaders share their insights on fostering great attention practices for themselves and their teams.

Learn more about Management III: Time + Attention here.

Being a manager today: interesting challenges, interesting solutions

One of the best things a manager can do is simply approach the challenges of their day-to-day work with a sense of curiosity––and perhaps even excitement.

That may sound a little far-fetched to anyone mired in the stress of underdeveloped processes, inflexible teams, or a mismatch of priorities and focus.

But once we’ve developed a purposeful approach to these big-picture issues, this sense of curiosity and excitement may not be so far-fetched after all.

When leaders develop their skills in balancing structure and agility, and managing their time and attention, they can get past what feels like daily chaos––and open up space for more creative and innovative thinking.

There will always be problems to solve when you’re a manager. But interesting problems can lead to interesting solutions. And once we’ve laid the foundation for great day-to-day leadership, we’re one step closer to discovering those interesting solutions.

And maybe even having a little fun along the way.

Learn more about Nomadic Programs here.

Pro tip about our Management II and III courses: leaders can complete these Programs in any order, and without having completed Management I. The Programs aren’t a series. Instead, they tackle the progressively more complex issues that you’re likely to encounter as you advance in your career as a manager.

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