Key behaviours for managers and leaders in 2021

Written by Matt Roberts, CMI’s director of membership Tuesday 12 January 2021
It may not have been written into their job description, but managers have a vital role to play in helping their people through the pandemic
Manager talking to diverse team

Covid-weary and lockdown-fatigued, employees are looking to their managers to lead them through the gloom, giving them much-needed energy, inspiration, direction and hope.

In our latest Better Managers Briefing, we spoke with Kevin Murray CMgr CCMI, who has enjoyed a long career in leadership and success as a best-selling author of management and business books. And during our conversation, Kevin outlined what he believes will be the key behaviours for managers and leaders in 2021: charisma, resilience, empathy and communication.


Charismatic leadership inspires people to feel good about themselves and to do great things and to feel great about themselves. Managers who can do that can achieve a lot more. Yet many of us believe charisma is something that's beyond us: other people are charismatic, but we're not. Not so, says Kevin, who argues that each of us can learn skills that will make us more charismatic.

“Charisma is a real, tangible, measurable thing,” he says, “and something we must display in all its traits all the time to get the best out of others. But it takes work to get there.”

So, how do we learn to be more charismatic? By being authentic and more impactful in the way we present ourselves; by having a cause or purpose that our people want to buy into because we have made it so compelling; and by communicating this with genuine warmth and care. “We need to show our people these traits all the time, because this isn't about just making people feel better,” says Kevin. “People who feel better, perform better and achieve hard, concrete, positive, profitable results. There’s a direct line from soft to hard.”


This pandemic has demanded resilience from everyone, but particularly from those in management. “Managers don't get recognition for the incredibly difficult job they do,” says Kevin. “Managers always get kicked, but seldom rewarded or recognised. And it's a tough job, especially now.” To build resilience in their teams, managers need to remain positive, demonstrate positive energy, and show great care to their people, doing whatever they can to help them – going the extra mile to enable them to do what they have to do in the current circumstances. Being considerate about how your people are feeling right now gives them strength to be resilient, advises Kevin.

But to be able to give others strength and resilience means looking after yourself. You can't be positive and encourage perseverance and realistic optimism in others if you don't look after yourself. “Resilience takes strength, but if you're feeling doubtful and hopeless and washed out, it’s really hard to be resilient,” he cautions. The more you take care of yourself, the more you can take care of others.”


Trust is in short supply at the moment. Will I catch Covid from the person  walking past me on the pavement? Is my boss planning to make me redundant? Does the government really know what it’s doing? So managers have to think very hard about how they build and maintain trust, not just among staff, but customers too. And that, says Kevin, means caring.

“So much work has been done by psychiatrists and neuroscientists that proves the importance of feeling valued, to feel like you're part of a team,” he says. “Managers need to amp up their ability to make their teams feel cared for, because it’s an undoubtedly added stimulus to high performance.”

But this is more than touchy-feely froth, he contends: “I don't want to sound like I'm a care bunny, but it really matters – how you show empathy and care now will pay huge dividends post-pandemic. There's a real business benefit from being more caring and empathetic. And the more you show how valued people are – and the more value they feel – the higher they perform.”

Of course, showing empathy is much harder to do with remote working, and it can be difficult to gather much from a facial expression on a Zoom call. “It means managers need to actually ask people how they’re feeling, how they’re getting on and what they’re finding difficult,” says Kevin. “We need to actually verbalise things more than ever before, in order to be empathetic, understand what people need, take steps to help them and get the best out of them. Focus on the individual, take notes, deliver on your actions and enable them to perform at their best.”


With so many people now working from home, communication skills have never been more important for keeping workers engaged. This is particularly true for furloughed workers, says Kevin. “Keep communicating with all furloughed staff, telling them what is happening in their absence, what they can expect when they return and what you’ll be expecting them to do,” he advises. “They need to hear and know that they're still important, even if they're not able to be of service right now.”

Lack of engagement among staff is bad for business, so aim to build and retain a sense of team, community and belonging, even if – or especially if – most people are working remotely or furloughed. “Finding time to stay in touch and talk through issues either as a team or one on one takes a lot of effort,” says Kevin. But when you communicate, try to remain hopeful and positive – not manically positive, because people will see through that, but impress on them that things that can still be done. That’s what workers want and need to hear from their managers now, especially in these uncertain times.”

You can watch our conversation in full here. You can also visit CMI’s Covid-19 hub here, which includes links to The #BetterManagers Manual, a practical guide to navigating the impacts of the pandemic for managers and leaders.


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