How to be a better leader with FM’s top leadership tips of 2021

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

2021 has been a challenging year for leaders everywhere, but also an opportunity to grow and use effective leadership skills.

With so much uncertainty and fast-paced change in the workplace and business landscape, it can be hard to focus on developing your leadership skills. That's why we've gathered all of the best leadership advice from FM magazine articles published over the past year. (Part one can be found here.)

Read on to discover leadership tips from experts around the world.

Effectively communicate to lead successful change

Employees tend to resist change, not because they want to block it, but because they don't understand it, said Lisa Hannum, president and CEO of Beehive Strategic Communication in St. Paul, Minnesota, in the US. She pointed out that while change creates uncertainty, when it is well managed and effectively communicated, it can be positive and energising.

"Change often fuels creativity, innovation, and momentum, but to facilitate successful change, you must get the employees on board," she said, and added the best way to do that is through communication.

"When you are proactively and consistently communicating, listening, and inviting feedback, you are minimising resistance," Hannum said. "Even if it's hard in the short term, change is designed for long-term benefit to an organisation's stakeholders."

From "How Effective Leaders Communicate Difficult Change", by Teri Saylor, 3 September 2021

Support a resilient workforce through regular engagement, communication, and upskilling

Shivani Maitra, a London-based human capital consulting partner at Deloitte, said employers must first keep an eye on their employees' morale and overall wellbeing and do so on an individual, human level, rather than solely through company-wide wellbeing programmes. Check to make sure your staff are taking enough time off, getting enough rest, and receiving support to cope with stress. Employees may have caring responsibilities or other complications brought on by the pandemic; good employers will be responsive to that.

Second, managers should maintain regular engagement and communication with staff to keep them in the loop, especially if they are working remotely. Ask yourself: Am I talking to my people enough? Do they know what's happening? Do they have access to the leadership team? Are they engaging enough with their colleagues? Healthy, satisfied employees who feel well connected tend to be the most resilient employees, Maitra said.

The third element, which Maitra said was most critical, is upskilling your people to adapt to fast-changing marketplaces.

From "How CFOs Can Incorporate Resilience in Their Plans: Workforce", by Portia Crowe, 12 August 2021

Link organisational strategies to individual goals

A good starting point is understanding how employees' output contributes to the achievement of corporate strategic goals. At one organisation, Funmi Adesida, FCMA, CGMA, who was principal consultant at ADF Business Solutions in Lagos, worked with a human resources consultant who created a strategy map that helped the company translate its strategies into individual goals that could be measured.

The one-page chart encompassed what the organisation wanted to achieve with each strategy, information that could be used to build KPIs. The next step was to set goals company-wide, then for departments, and finally for individual roles.

"It was so simple," Adesida said. By tying company aims to individual and shared goals, "everyone could understand the implications of their own tasks", she said. That engagement can give them the information and the inspiration they need to innovate or adapt to change. Communicating about this process and its intent to staff and managers is also critical. "To get what you want, you must explain why you're doing something," she said.

From "6 Ways to Encourage Innovation Through Performance Management", by Anita Dennis, 9 November 2021

Take this opportunity to lead on ESG

Companies' recognition of the climate crisis is an opportunity for accountants to take the lead in supporting business decisions, said Rohit Selvaratnam, FCMA, CGMA, the CFO of Celsus, a public-private entity that is responsible for the commercial operations of the Royal Adelaide Hospital in Australia.

"This is an opportunity for accountants and CFOs to take the lead versus being led," he said. "We as accountants and finance people need to recognise that individuals are placing greater emphasis on their responsibility toward the environment and the community."

He added that while there's a lot of emphasis on the environment, it's also about the social and governance aspects in the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) framework.

"It is our responsibility to ensure that within our business and supply chains, we are doing the right thing, and at the board level to strive to and meet the commitments that the firm is making. It's not just the environment; our responsibilities are wider than that," he said.

From "What COP26 Commitments Mean for Accounting and Finance", by Alexis See Tho, 23 November 2021

Normalise loneliness

Because loneliness is such a widespread issue, Constance Hadley, lecturer in the management and organisations department at Boston University, recommends normalising it and simply assuming everyone is struggling to form deeper connections.

"Let's take advantage of the fact that the pandemic has amplified understanding, awareness, and concern for it, and start trying to make the conversation about it normalised and not make loneliness a stigmatised condition," she said.

Normalising loneliness can be as simple as expressing to your teams that many people are feeling this way and, if you are feeling lonely, you're not the only one. It's also important for managers and company leaders to express their own feelings of loneliness because that gives tacit permission for others across the organisation to open up about their struggles, which can help create a psychologically safe environment.

From "5 Tips for Addressing Loneliness in the Workplace", by Hannah Pitstick, 5 April 2021

Listen more, talk less

"Only by learning to listen very, very carefully can finance leaders begin to understand what their team members are experiencing and feeling," said Nigeria-based Japheth Jev, ACMA, CGMA, the CFO at Triumph Power and Gas Systems Ltd. "Empathy can primarily be learned and adopted through listening more than you talk to others."

This may require setting up regular one-on-one meetings or check-ins with team members that can include both work and nonwork discussions. During these meetings, allow your team member to guide the conversation, and be mindful about always waiting to speak — remembering that your role is simply to listen and, where appropriate, to respond with empathetic phrases that give both acknowledgement and encouragement. For example, use phrases such as "I understand what you're saying" and "Thank you for sharing this with me".

Once they have gained an understanding of a team member's position or situation, Jev said that skilled leaders will then ask questions that gently prompt an employee to find a thoughtful solution that can both assuage anxieties and improve performance.

"Asking the right questions can both calm the nerves and also help to point to a positive solution — and in this new paradigm of empathetic leadership, one should encourage employee-led solutions that enable teams to chart their own course forward."

From "Empathy as an Antidote to Uncertainty", by Jessica Hubbard, 1 June 2021

Nurture talent to effectively lead through uncertainty

By installing the right people in the right jobs, high-calibre leaders with a solid focus on their company's underlying strengths can drive their businesses through any crisis to ultimately reach their full potential, said Jim Collins, author of the best-selling management book Good to Great, at the Road Map to Greatness virtual event hosted by The Growth Faculty.

"There will be no new normal, in my view. There will only be a continuous series of the not-normal episodes, big surprises that rock our world yet again," Collins said.

"Your ultimate hedge against uncertainty … is to have the right people who can, as a group, adapt to whatever surprises come down the road."

From "Best Hedge Against Uncertainty Is People, Management Guru Says", by Sophie Hares, 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