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New Skills for 2021: A Back to the Future Revolution?

Caroline Hardy
Young professional working remotely in a relaxing setting

Where do you see yourself in the coming weeks? Have you taken a moment to reflect on the future? Should you go back to “normal” or move on? Are you stuck?

In my last article, inspired by Henry Mintzberg’s advice to “stay cool”, I discussed the notion of calm and its positive impact on managers and directors, particularly in the current climate of commotion, ambiguity and chaos. Being calm is still relevant as we enter 2021 and now that the initial strain is over, we can reflect on our achievements and our priorities for the months ahead.

Striving to evolve or stuck in your comfort zone?

The sheer pace of change that we’ve seen and experienced these last few months has been beyond belief. Accelerated adaptation at every level of society: our public authorities, our families, our institutions, our environment, our schools and our organizations.

An observer watching down from outer space, wouldn't have believed their eyes or ears - no matter their shape or number. We humans and workers, who are usually very reluctant to change, have managed to change, evolve, create and develop new ways of doing things in record time! Obviously, not everything is perfect but we are capable of overcoming the obstacles and achieving great things. In many ways, the collective intelligence that has been more and more evident since March 2020 can be particularly inspiring when mobilized.

However, some people seem to be in a rush to return to “normal” and that’s only natural. We worked hard for our creature comforts, we developed an impressive array of collective soft skills, and the business model worked pretty well, after all, it was profitable... But is the comfort of our beautiful corporate offices, decorated with lush green plants and coffee machines, the heated seats of our cars on cold winter days and monthly processes and other 9 to 5 trappings really all we can aspire to?

Revolution or Back to the Future ?

At the beginning of this year, business articles on the new skills for navigating 2021 abounded, and rightly so! We are intelligent, professional men and women who strive to learn and acquire the behavior, skills and competencies that will help us perform and “do well” in the months to come.

The keen reader has surely already come across the latest trends in business skills. To name just a few:

  • Flexibility
  • Agility
  • Workload dimensions
  • Effective remote management methods
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Active listening
  • Respect
  • Altruism
  • Benevolence
  • Etc.

These skills (which are linked to behavior) really are drivers of performance and well-being within our companies, provided that they are well used, of course. But are they really new and revolutionary, or as old as the hills and hidden deep within us? Are we already aware of them and have we been using them consciously and competently?


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Looking back to move forward

Are we going back in time and drawing on longstanding social, almost humanistic, skills to manage our organizations? If so, what a healthy and timely thing to do. I would even go so far as to say that understanding the history of humanity is crucial right now, as we are going through a defining time:

  • Understanding the historic duality between technical and social management to remind ourselves that taking care of the people that make up our businesses is essential to attaining a healthy performance.
  • Returning to the principles of listening and dialogue so valued by those who built our civilizations.
  • Rereading the book “Speaking” (La Parole) by Georges Gusdorf published in 1952 which guided us on how our words, our exchanges, build our societies, our organizations and our future.

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Snowballs and onion peels

Management theories and key skills are formed like snowballs; they have interlocked, and have influenced and fed off each other for dozens of years. So we shouldn't seek to reinvent the wheel, but rather delve more deeply into our reference points, our history (recent or past) and take into account all its social, economic, political, ecological aspects. Benevolence and altruism were an integral part of well-established old trends and we could gain much from (re)visiting them, to grasp the finer details and apply them to our management. For example, considering the impact that our business decisions could have on family life can be beneficial for our general wellbeing.

Similarly, emotional closeness in long-distance relationships is another historical concept that should be updated to fit our reality. Rather that inventing new ways of being warm and effective, we should reflect on what can be learned from old handwritten letters and other expatriate methods, such as those, closer to us, of the mobile workers “and road warriors”.

I progress, you progress, we progress

The massive progress we have made in recent months is impressive. Now it's important to pick up the pace and to work on our behavior, keeping in mind that we have new skills to use in 2021. However, it is not always a question of reinventing ourselves, but rather of stepping back, observing and taking inspiration from the world that surrounds us. Let's learn from our community (in the wider sense) and concentrate on what unites us as everyday stakeholders.

Here's to a wonderful 2021 for all of us, full of new/old skills!



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Caroline Hardy

Caroline Hardy

Programs Director - Executive Coaching and Development