How Executive Leaders Can Make the Most Impact in the New Year

Stacey Ashley Blog

How Executive Leaders Can Make the Most Impact in the New Year

I was speaking with a coaching client Mary, a Senior Director, last week and she told me how tired she was. That she really didn’t care what happened between now and Christmas. She was just going to leave her team be.

This is not a one-off experience. This has been a theme I’ve been hearing in recent days, even though there are still weeks until Christmas.

As we approach the Christmas break in Australia, it feels like we are getting ready for a collective sigh of relief that the year of 2020 is almost over. It has been a year of challenge for leaders at all levels. People are tired and looking forward to the break.

Now, while I agree about the importance of taking a break, I think that there are some real opportunities that will be missed if nothing progresses, no leadership decision making or action taking, in these next few weeks.

If we look past Christmas there will be many challenges in the year ahead, in fact years ahead, and leaders need to be ready to face them.

Remember early in the COVID situation there was significant commentary on the 3 primary leadership responses to this particularly challenging situation:

1. FREEZE response

Where no leadership action was taken, and no decisions were being made. Which means there was no progress, no prospects and no future.

2. FLIGHT response

Where the response is erratic unfocused activity and decision-making. Remember the hoarding that happened earlier this year? This unfocused leadership response keeps people busy, but it doesn’t actually move you forward.

3. FIGHT response

This is a strategic and focused leadership response, which is about making specific decisions and taking specific action to both deal with the current situation and to set up for the future. This response creates capability, creates sustainability, develops options and creates opportunity.

3 LEADERSHIP RESPONSESCredit: Simon Bowen, the 3 leadership responses.

As the year has progressed, more and more leaders have moved out of the freeze and flight responses and into more strategic fight responses. This is good and creates the potential for teams and organisations to be better positioned to reach and pass the survival point.

What I’ve noticed in recent weeks though is, because it has been a challenging year and they can see a break in sight, that many leaders are actually slipping back into the freeze response.

They are not leading focused activity. They are just holding out for the end of the year.

This approach to leadership will not move you towards possibility, towards opportunity, towards options for sustainable success in 2021.

We are all in a marathon, not a sprint. And yes, the break at Christmas will be very welcome. Yet there is so much more that you can be doing now to make sure that when you come back from that break, you are in a much better position to create a sustainable future for yourself, your team and your organisation.

Leading Possibility - simpleFor many organisations, you are yet to reach the survival line for your business. This means you cannot afford to take your eye off the ball. There are things to do now that will help your 2021 get off to a better start, and ensure you are having the right kind of leadership impact.

For leaders at the top, you need to lead by example, role model leadership, create a way forward and show your people leadership in the post 2020 era.

If you are not thinking about this already, then maybe now is the time to start. You need to be setting yourself, your tribe and your world up for sustainable success, by using a strategic and focused leadership approach now.

Here are a few of the challenges leaders need to face up to in 2021:


Every leader must recognise that they are in the middle of a long term transformation. While 2020 has seen a lot of change, it is not over yet. You need to continue to focus on leading in a sustainable way for the long term. I mean years.

This means set yourself up to be the best you can be, so you can continue to provide focused leadership to yourself, your tribe and your world during this marathon.

This includes things like personal resilience, coping strategies, building capability, using a paced approach, having an infinite mindset, and consistently playing to your own strengths.

  • How well are you doing this right now?
  • What do you need in order to grow a marathon mindset?


These are the things that I’ve really noticed have started to fade away in the second half of this year. While there is still a lot of communication going on, that feeling of being connected to each other and also connected to the purpose of your team and organisation is diminishing.

Employee Engagement Data from LinkedIn’s Glint Platform in August reveals 31% of employees feel less connected to their leaders then prior to the pandemic, and 37% of employees feel less connected to their teammates.

Remember connection and purpose is what gets people out of bed. It is what creates engagement, it’s what leads to motivation, it’s what creates the desire to participate. If that is missing, then so is the energy and discretionary effort you need from yourself and your team now and into 2021.

A few questions to consider:

  • How do you communicate in a way that fosters connection?
  • How do you be visible as a leader?
  • How do you help your people to reconnect to the purpose of the team and the organisation?
Leading Possbiility for CFOs - 3 keys


The world in which you were operating in 2019 no longer exists.

The organisations, cultures, ways of working, systems, processes and so on, that were relevant in 2019, are no longer relevant.  Organisations, and the people who make them up, need to adapt in order to survive this change in the world.  And that means systemic change is required in order to reach the survival line.

As a leader, you need to lead this path.

So consider, what are the skills that you need as a leader, so that you are positioned to be able to lead a systemic change over the long-term, the next one to five years and beyond.

This is big. This is beyond most leaders current skill set, simply because they have not been faced with it before.

  • What are the additional skills, knowledge, experience, resources and capability that you need so that you can lead this essential systemic change?
  • How will you get them?
These 3 important areas will help you to optimise your leadership impact in 2021.
  • What do you need to do to stay focused in the lead up to Christmas?


I’d love to know your thoughts.

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AND: Whenever you’re ready… here are 4 ways I can help you grow your coaching and leadership:

THE COACHING LEADER™ - ORIGIN : Sydney 14 Aug, Brisbane 21 Aug, Online 27-28 Aug - With Stacey Ashley & Sarah Derry – Early Bird Individual & Group