Five Leadership Traits to Cultivate in 2020 and Beyond


The start of a new decade is making many of us feel reinvigorated with intentions for new beginnings. Perhaps the time marker 2020 in itself has sparked a desire to take our leadership skills to a new level. Perhaps it’s kicking off a new business venture or community project, launching into retirement, having a baby, graduating from college, or having the desire to find a new job or to land a promotion. Whatever the reason propelling each one of us to pay more attention to the way we lead ourselves, others and our projects, this year feels like the one to up the ante in personal leadership development.

Where to start?

As a first step, start by setting your target. First, define what leadership means in your life and unique context. When it comes to leadership at work, global management consulting firm McKinsey defines effective leadership as “a set of behaviors that, in a given context, align an organization, foster execution and ensure organizational renewal.” 

Then list some traits you’d like to see yourself exhibit, traits that you believe should accompany leadership. In his book What Makes a Leader?, psychologist and former New York Times reporter Daniel Goleman highlights emotional intelligence competencies such as self-awareness, introspection, constructive attitudes and mindsets as essential to effective leadership. 

So, what area in particular are you interested in developing? Each person’s plan is unique and it will be difficult to generalize which skills to develop. In case you’re looking for inspiration, below are 5 skills that we’ve seen great leaders demonstrate.

Five Leadership Traits to Cultivate in 2020 and Beyond

1. Compassion  

A Harvard Business Review survey revealed that 91% of the 1,000 business leaders surveyed listed compassion as very important for their leadership, and 80% said they would like to enhance their compassion but did not know how.

Fortunately, compassion can be learned. A recent study showed that through spending time exercising compassion toward those experiencing suffering, the brain showed less activity in the areas associated with emotional distress. Study participants who practiced compassion were able to better remain calm in the face of suffering.

This matters in the workplace, because research suggests that compassion is highly connected with interpersonal connection, collaboration, and reduced employee turnover rates.

2. Authentic vulnerability

According to according to research professor and vulnerability champion Dr. Brené Brown, vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation and creativity. To increase the sense that it’s safe to try new things and even to fail, practicing vulnerability is key for leaders to practice and demonstrate.  

Learning the right ways to be vulnerable at work to build a team culture that allows teamwork, risk-taking, and creativity to flourish is not something that comes natural to many of us. Further, the term “vulnerability” can be tricky, as it can easily be confused with “oversharing” or being “unfiltered.” With that said, the benefits of vulnerability to a team’s creativity, innovation, and productivity can be astounding. 

Psychological safety has been shown to be a leading indicator of high performance on teams. It’s the team dynamic in which we aren’t afraid to show up, to bring our best ideas to the table, to contribute without fear of failure or loss of reputation holding us back. Any of us who may have tried to cultivate this dynamic on our own teams can agree that it’s not always an easy task.

One way to become more vulnerable is to open up to your team little by little about on-the-job failures and lessons learned that are relevant to both you and your team. According to Dr. Brown, some of the most innovative companies have “failure festivals” to share with one another lessons learned. 

3. Resilience, the ability to navigate challenges 

In the face of adversity, those recognized as strong leaders exhibit the ability to maintain focus on the ultimate vision and to refocus others, even in the midst of adversity. To grow resilience, a key step might include cultivating compassion

In the years to come, we need to redefine failure for ourselves and for our teams. When something doesn’t go as intended or as planned, we can often experience deep shame over the repercussions on others or on our organization, or even for the perceived or real loss of credibility with colleagues or clients. 

In the midst of failure’s very real discomfort, we as individuals or as members of a team have the opportunity to unwrap a gift. Each failure offers us the opportunity to learn, to continue on our journey toward our most authentic selves, and in turn, to exercise more authentic leadership.

4. Connection

By dining with an array of coworkers and/or industry colleagues, you’re cultivating the opportunity to create meaningful bonds that can grow your sphere of influence, and hence, your platform to provide input that is welcomed when the time arises.

As one simple example: while it may be tempting when the clock strikes twelve to pull away and scroll through our phones (especially for the introverts among us!), the verdict is in. Lunching with coworkers can help us make real friends with people at work, and that can be an integral link to our longer-term success.

We know you may still need some alone time to recharge. Perhaps see if you can divide a 60-minute break into 45 minutes of a social lunch accompanied by 15 minutes of solo recharge. Plus, you don’t need to engage in a social lunch every day, just see what would help you build authentic connections with coworkers as part of your daily routine. 

5. Balance

If you’re going to be an influential leader, it’s important that you remain curious as well as mentally and emotionally present. It’s more difficult, if not impossible to maintain this type of engagement when we’re overworked or burnt out. 

Without a doubt there will be specific deadlines or projects that require short bursts where extra time and energy are expected. However, if we allow these short sprints to blend together into one long marathon we find ourselves sprinting through–without adequate recharge time-–there can be some negative health consequences. 

Don’t let ongoing demands get you out of balance. Take regular vacations, set healthy boundaries for your and your team’s time (where you have the ability to influence) and be especially cognizant to intentionally maintain balance during stressful seasons at work. Leaders set the tone at work, and nothing speaks more loudly and clearly than their own actions. 

We hope this list spurs a few ideas for your plan of action. We would also love to see you at one of our upcoming Search Inside Yourself programs. Come alone, invite your whole team to sharpen your skills together or let us know if you’d like to bring the program to your organization

If you’ve decided this is the year to level up your leadership, know that we at SIYLI are rooting you on. In or out of our workshops, let us know how we can be a resource for you.