Leading in 2024: courage, energy, and slowing down

Remi Baker,

If you’re anything like me, you might be feeling bamboozled by just how quickly 2024 has come around. There have been many positives over the past year, lots of learnings, and some significant challenges too. So as one year ends and another begins, we thought it an opportune time to take a moment to reflect on what we learned from our work coaching and developing hundreds of senior leaders last year.

We had countless inspiring conversations with clients throughout 2023, and we also noticed patterns and recurring themes in relation to the key behaviours that enable leaders (and their people) to flourish at work.

So in the spirit of collaboration we invited four Wondrous clients to provide their take on the behaviours that we believe will define great leadership in 2024 and beyond. Many thanks to Zahoor Ahmad, Nadia Baker, Larissa Harrison, and James Macgregor for their contributions.

1) Be courageous: be clear on what you stand for

As the cost-of-living crisis enters its second year, and with a General Election looming, 2024 presents an uncertain landscape, which makes courageous leadership more important than ever.

But what does it mean to lead with courage?

“For me, courage is about understanding the benefits of any course of action despite the risks associated with it. There are so many voices that the age of social media gives platforms to, and the prevalence of some phrases and buzzwords can hide and undermine some core truths. Courage then must be accompanied by fluency. In creating and disseminating fluent narratives we can build the tools necessary to mobilise and engage the sometimes-silent majority.

To focus on courage is to accept there is fear, and so adding nuance to these narratives is incredibly powerful. Tyranny, someone once wrote, is the absence of nuance. We can start to reduce that fear by adding nuance. In a post-truth world, beleaguered by the culture-wars, nuance is necessarily absent for these narratives to thrive. When someone says to me that they are anti-woke, by adding nuance into the conversation we can begin to demonstrate both clarity and our personal position. Courage is certainly not the absence of fear, but fear thrives in the absence of nuance.”

Zahoor Ahmad, Head of Social Mobility, Inclusion and Belonging, Co-op

2) Create space: slow down to speed up

“The temptation to think fast when you are busy is something many of us are guilty of, me included! We often think this is making us operate efficiently but I am not sure this is always true. Over time, I’ve learnt that in fact I make the best decisions when I can slow down, whether in work or at home. The recency effect can distort our decision making and mean we don’t always take in the whole picture. Even the creation of a small window of thinking time can make us more inclusive and expansive in our thinking and help to make sure we are taking our people with us. Create space to think, to consider how you want to act, to think about others – the possibilities are endless!”

Nadia Baker, Head of Communications & Colleague Engagement, Halifax

Many leaders use January as an opportunity to talk about what they achieved in the previous year, and what they’re planning for the next one. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I do wonder whether these individuals are also asking themselves what they need to let go of in order to slow down and improve this year. It’s a small but powerful shift in focus.

In a world of perpetual busyness, it’s easy to go from one place to the next (or one project to the next) without noticing the details around us. This is why leaders need to slow down and create space to think, reflect, and notice what’s really going on right here, right now, as well as what is coming over the hill.

By slowing down, we gain crucial perspective. I often talk about this in terms of leaders needing to “get on the balcony” to get a clear view of whether they’re going in the right direction, or whether they need to change course. Creating the space to do this is essential for clarity of thought, and what we at Wondrous like to call “considered brilliance.”

3) Generate (and be mindful of) energy

“Energy is a very dynamic thing so it’s important that leaders are not just aware of their own energy, but of other people’s too. Sometimes we have plenty and sometimes we have very little – and we can also switch between the two quickly.

Our energy levels are also affected by other people and situations. Having the courage to not do something and say no, for example, requires a thoughtful and reflective kind of energy. This is different to the frenetic energy that comes with being addicted to action, and which can actually lead us down the wrong path. In contrast, there is a much more positive energy in staying curious, and knowing when to step back and take stock.

Listening is another form of energy, and when someone truly listens, it’s really powerful.”

Larissa Harrison, Group HRD, Talent, Babcock International Group

I loved speaking to Larissa about energy recently. As people, we are moving energy, and its impact can either be positive or negative. Leaders are known for leveraging their energy to motivate others yet they need to be careful not to deplete their own energy, and that means using it wisely and selectively to yield the best results.

If we think about energy in the context of organisational change, it’s a critical component for success. Larissa goes so far as to say that “without energy, we are nothing” and I’d wholeheartedly agree. Changemakers need a lot of energy – and not just at the start of a change project but throughout every stage, and especially when people’s appetite begins to lag. This is when leaders need to be curious and continually point out the why in order to reinvigorate and re-energise people.

4) Be flexible: develop a growth mindset

Leading in complex times calls for a growth mindset. Why? Because change is frequent and faster than ever. Being flexible to changing needs and environments is therefore key to effective leadership in the new world of work.

A clear example of this in my mind is hybrid work. At Wondrous, we had to change and adapt quickly, and I’m proud to say we did it really well. But it’s not a case of set it and forget it. As leaders, we continue to look at what our people and our customers need in order to evolve and thrive in the new world. Instead of getting cross or refusing to accept the evolving landscape (fixed mindset), our encouragement is to get curious,
listen to needs, and most of all, embrace the new world flexibility. Not always easy!

It’s an approach that we live by at Wondrous – and one that many of our clients have also adopted. Here’s what James Macgregor from TSB Bank had to say on this all-important topic:

“Be curious, ask questions, listen well, and surround yourself with diverse perspectives. Check in regularly on what’s going right and what needs improving. Rich collaboration and communication across your people, your customers, and your partners will open possibilities and options that allow leaders to navigate complex times, innovate, and adapt.”

James Macgregor, Head of Human Resources, TSB Bank

To learn more about leading into 2024, and how to unlock these behaviours in your organisation, get in touch with the Wondrous team at wondrous@wondrouspeople.com 

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