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What 2021 Requires from Leaders

By Denise Lee Yohn – Leading Authority and Speaker on Building Exceptional Brands

Denise Lee Yohn, Marketing keynote speaker at The Sweeney Agency Speakers Bureau



Leadership is critical in 2021 if we want our organizations to withstand the challenges of the pandemic that will continue well into the new year. We can’t afford to hope things will get better – we have to make them better.


We do this by leading in three ways:

  1. Initiate: Anticipate change and take advantage of the unique opportunities that exist in crises
  2. Invent: Create new business models, products, solutions and even new approaches to operations and employee experience
  3. Inspire: Motivate customers, employees and other stakeholders through purpose, vision and human connection

Taking action is actually the first way to lead our organizations this year. 2021 requires us to initiate. We can’t wait around for things to get back to normal because most everything is going to be different. We have to get out of reactionary mode and be proactive about pursuing growth.

The Harvard Business Review reports that companies that made significant acquisitions during the Great Recession outperformed those that didn’t. And consider how innovative companies such as Airbnb and successful new products like the iPod were launched in difficult times. Plus, as I’ve reported previously, brands that shut down their advertising and marketing during a downturn take an average of five years to recover the market share they lost.

But organizations that forge ahead despite disruption — or because of it — leave behind those that retreat or stall. So, make sure you set aside some of your budget for bold business-building actions and double down on your innovation efforts.

That brings me to the second leadership requirement for 2021 — invent. We need to make new products and services a priority because customers and their needs have changed dramatically. E-commerce is soaring, and McKinsey research shows around 80% of customers expect to continue the new shopping behaviors they adopted last year. So, consider new approaches to health and safety, privacy and convenience, regardless of the type of business you’re in.

We also need to invent inside our organizations as well since flexibility will be critical for us and our employees. So, rethink your office location, design, amenities — and even the need for an office in the first place. Deploy new technology and systems, develop different management and meeting practices, and design flexible work hours and processes to make our organizations safe, productive, and desirable to employees.

And we need to inspire. Once the novelty of the new year wears off, people will realize that life is still going to be very difficult for at least the next six months. As leaders, we need to motivate customers, employees, partners, investors — everyone around us.

That means adopting and articulating a meaningful purpose for our organization and aligning our strategies and operations with it. Also, we need craft an optimistic vision of the future of our business and set realistic goals for everyone — and then show how we plan to achieve them. We shouldn’t get bogged down in operational changes and forget that we are people leading other people. And a human connection can be far more influential than any technology or program we implement.

This new year requires a different kind of leadership. Whether you are the head of your organization or a small team leader, you have the opportunity to initiate, invent and inspire — and lead others to make 2021 the best year ever.


    About Denise Lee Yohn

    Denise Lee Yohn delivers fresh ideas and clear-cut tools to build a breakthrough brand. She inspires and teaches business leaders to realize the full potential of their organizations.

    Blending a unique perspective, over twenty-five years of experience with world-class brands including Sony and Frito-Lay, and a talent for energizing audiences, Denise is a leading authority on building great brands and exceptional organizations. As author of the best-selling book What Great Brands Do and the new book FUSION, she cracks the code on how to achieve brand leadership.

    To Learn more about Denise Lee Yohn contact [email protected]

    Derek Sweeney is the Director of Speaker Ideas at The Sweeney Agency. www.thesweeneyagency.com. For 15 years Derek has been helping clients find the right Speakers for their events. Derek can be reached at 1-866-727-7555 or [email protected]