If you are an aspiring leader, pick up these skills for 2021

These are some of the soft and hard skills that will prove indispensable for aspiring leaders.

By U2B Staff 

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The year 2020 will unlikely be remembered for COVID-19 more than anything else, but if you’re an aspiring leader who’s looking to grow in your career, it’s time to adjust your sails to the winds of change. There are many leadership skills that will put you in good stead for 2021. 

On CNBC Make It, futurist, author and keynote speaker on business trends Scott Steinberg notes that there are several skills to master before 2021. These include futuristic thinking, or the ability to predict events and trends, and understand how they might impact your industry and professional development.


“While this is a skill that remarkably few people have developed, it’s important to note that futuristic thinking doesn’t require a PhD. At the very least, it’s about staying abreast of potential changes and thinking outside the box,” he said. 

It’s equally essential to continue developing your leadership skills. Studies show that those with leadership skills are likelier to get a raise, promoted, or selected to take on additional responsibilities. Steinberg notes that leadership isn’t just about managing a team, but it’s also about having the courage to do things like push past your comfort zone to take on new roles.

Other important skills include building your emotional intelligence, interpersonal communication and cognitive flexibility. Managing one’s emotions — but also those of others — has become one of the top skills employers look for.

Our tech-driven era has necessitated the need to know how to speak clearly and interact with others and managing conversations, cognitive flexibility will enable you to consider multiple concepts simultaneously and quickly and readily adapt to the unknown. 

Other leadership skills worth looking into

On Forbes, executive coach, advisor, and facilitator Melissa Daimler believes empathy, emotional agility and context management are among the leadership skills that will better equip leaders to lead in 2021.

“Effective communicators and productive leaders are intertwined. When I led learning and development functions at high tech companies, communication was the #1 skill leaders and managers wanted to learn and practice,” she said. 

COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of many, and as burnout continues to get worse, this skill has become even more important for leaders to practice on a regular basis, she opined.

Ben Horowitz, a former entrepreneur turned technology investor, said the most challenging skill to learn as a CEO was the ability to manage their own psychology, or their emotions. 

“I have coached many executives on this skill. We have reviewed situations in which the conversation was charged, and what happens when one individual reacts emotionally vs. responds neutrally. This is emotional intelligence; the ability to be aware of and control your own emotions,” said Daimler.

Psychologist Susan David notes that emotionally agile people are not only aware of their feelings, they know how to navigate through them. This includes detaching the self from the situation, being aware of one’s thoughts and acknowledging that they are just thoughts and emotions that do not define a person. 

The pandemic has normalised work from home, essentially flipping the workplace.

“Our context has changed, so we need to manage our time and design our days around how we work, based on what we’re working on and with whom we’re working,” said Daimler.


Intuit VP of Talent Humera Shahid said when figuring out how to plan our time, we have to be more intentional about people come together, be it in deciding whether to meet via video conference or face-to-face meetings in the office.

This includes considering what kind of work needs to be done synchronously vs asynchronously; when do we come together for meetings, and who needs to be in the meeting; what is the agenda for those meetings, and what, if any, decisions are we making. 

“Designing our days and our cultures for our new hybrid workplace is a skill we all need to keep cultivating,” said Daimler. 

“Our work is not burning us out, how we’re working is. A little more empathy, emotional agility, and context management will help us end 2020 successfully and set us up powerfully for 2021 and beyond.”

Upskilling options 

Many of the skills highlighted above can be learned online, and may not necessarily require formal education within the walls of a university.

Microcredentials, for instance, are useful for degree holders with work experience who want to upskill in specific areas. These short skill-based online courses are useful in supplementing our current certifications. 

Platforms such as edX and Coursera will prove to be a welcome respite for many, as their courses are often flexible and can be taken at a time that suits your schedule. 

At the end of the day, building critical skills will be essential in helping you grow in your career, so carve some time out from your day to commit to learning a new skill.