Become a better leader with FM’s top leadership tips of 2021

Part one of our curated list of the best leadership skills development advice from FM articles published this year.

2021 has been another year of tests for leaders everywhere, but each of those tests has also been an opportunity for individuals to show up for those around them. Simon Sinek argues in a TED Talk that anyone can be a leader, regardless of rank or title.

"Leadership is the responsibility to see those around us rise," he said. "It's not about being in charge; it's about taking care of those in our charge."

For anyone hoping to evolve into the leader they would gladly follow, we gathered all of the best leadership advice from FM magazine articles published over the past year. Read on to discover leadership tips from experts around the world.

Trust others to gain trust

It's easy to trust your team when you can see them working right next to you, but remote work requires a bit of faith. Perhaps one of the best ways to create a trusting environment is by first demonstrating to your team that you trust them.

"Trust is both a noun and a verb — the more of the verb we do, the more of the noun we get," said Kevin Eikenberry, a leadership and remote-work consultant based in Indianapolis in the US. "If I'm a leader and I want to build more trust in my team, I need to start showing through my actions that I trust them. Because when you know that I trust you, what do you want to do? You want to live up to that."

As long as your team is doing the work and meeting deadlines, try not to get caught up in the specifics of when they log in and out every day or how they tackle the task at hand. Avoid micromanaging, and give your team the chance to reward your trust by assigning them projects that challenge them and play to their strengths.

From "5 Tips for Building Trust in a Remote Workplace", by Hannah Pitstick, 20 September 2021

Consider implementing reverse mentoring

The practice of pairing executives with junior staff to facilitate the exchange of ideas and expertise is a tactic pioneered by General Electric in the 1990s. Legendary Chairman and CEO Jack Welch sought to teach his company leadership about the technological advances reshaping his industry. Chief among these was the internet, a revolution that GE's senior executives struggled to grasp and which its junior employees were exceptionally well equipped to explain.

Today, reverse mentoring can be used by companies to teach essential digital skills such as social media and artificial intelligence.

Reverse mentoring can even help companies tap into new ways to attract new talent. Data from postsecondary and MBA programmes shows that Millennials and Generation Z are increasingly less interested in pursuing careers in financial services, which poses an existential threat to finance departments struggling to recruit top talent to remain competitive.

A skunkworks initiative that pairs hiring managers with junior-level employees directly addresses pain points in talent acquisition and succession planning, helps the company stay relevant, keeps leadership in touch with today's business trends, and gives less experienced colleagues a chance to emerge as leaders.

From "Boost Your Career With Intrapreneurship", by Anastasia Uglova, 1 September 2021

Choose a relevant issue to support as an organisation

As you get to know members of your team, you may discover some things they're passionate about and issues they're concerned with. And while you can't get involved with everything, it might be worth choosing a relevant issue to support as an organisation or as a team.

"Consider what societal issues make the most sense for your organisation to be involved in, and put your energy, budget, time, reputation, and resources toward those things," said Virginia-based Brian Kropp, chief of research in the Gartner HR practice. "Don't just say they're important; actually do something about it."

For example, Bank of America decided in 2018 it would no longer lend money to gun manufacturers that make military-inspired guns for civilian use. And in the summer of 2020, the bank committed to donating $1 billion over the next four years to combat racial inequality.

If you're a smaller company without the resources to commit to major projects, consider ways you can help your immediate community, perhaps by donating time, money, and expertise to organisations your employees care about.

From "5 Ways Finance Departments Can Deepen Connections With Employees", by Hannah Pitstick, 25 February 2021

Admit when you don't know something

"If [we've learned] anything the last 18 months, we realise we don't know the answers to everything, and therefore, we have to just admit, 'I don't know'," said Matthew Hurn, OBE, FCMA, CGMA, the CFO for the Disruptive Investments platform at Mubadala Investment Company. "People come to you as a finance [person and ask], 'What's going to be the impact of this?' The truth is we just don't know. We can help you run some scenarios, and it could be A, B, or C, but in order to do that, we have to have X, Y, and Z to go through.

"To cope with these things now, you've just got to let people feel empowered and also show that there's a certain support mechanism for people, and really help them embrace a certain amount of resilience — and that's physical, and mental, and social resilience, and that's not easy because people deal with things in different ways. But I think having empathy as a leader for staff of today is probably one of the greatest qualities that you can get, and unfortunately, it's not taught in many books."

From "Finance Leaders: Skills for a Career in the Digital Age", by Alexis See Tho, 1 September 2021

Empower a culture of speaking up

Normalising conversations about ethical issues can help people open up should they see something that concerns them. One way of doing this is through creating "ethics moments" in team meetings, where teams discuss how they would handle a particular dilemma. Or it might be through leaders explicitly telling their employees that they are always willing to listen to someone's concerns.

London-based Paul Hockley, group ethics and compliance officer at Mott MacDonald, an engineering, management, and development consultancy, raised the importance of recognising those who do report concerns. "People need to believe that something will be done as a result of them raising a legitimate concern. Telling stories about positive changes which have resulted from someone speaking up builds trust in the process," he said.

From "Empowering a Culture of Speaking Up", by Bryony Clear Hill, 1 March 2021

Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, FM magazine's lead publisher, at