Last year changed everything: the way we learn, how we interact and how we conduct business. We are not going back to our old ways; after all, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses to be nimble, agile and resilient.

In 2020, leaders had to focus on fostering resiliency and staying nimble so they could keep the lights on and thrive despite unforeseen circumstances. As leaders work to build resilience within their organization, 2021 will see learning and development (L&D) take charge in a bigger and bolder way.

Making Learning a Cross-functional Effort

Traditionally, the onus of upskilling and reskilling talent sat on learning and development. Today, the responsibility for cultivating resilient employees has shifted. While learning and development teams still play a role, we have entered an era where leaders of business units across the organization play an equal part. Business line leaders must help identify which business skills to build within the organization, as they directly relate to employee engagement across teams.

Growing resilience will require new skills, which will require a greater focus on upskilling and reskilling the workforce. Not only will leaders need to equip their teams with the skills to succeed in this changing landscape, but they will also need to build out mechanisms to help continuous learning become part of the workforce DNA.

Product and business leaders must partner with the L&D team to identify the skills their team needs, evaluate current skills gaps and identify solutions to bridge those gaps. Setting up a cadence with the L&D team will help leaders continuously evaluate skill sets and build a plan to upskill their team members.

Building New Mechanisms Into Leadership

There are three fundamental mechanisms leaders need to identify skills gaps and cultivate resilient teams. Beyond developing hard skills, learning can also foster resiliency and weave a culture of learning into the fabric of the company.

1. Foster a Growth Mindset

Leaders will need to adopt a growth mindset and demonstrate its value within their organization. In contrast to the fixed mindset, the growth mindset recognizes that individuals can grow and develop skills, empowering employees to achieve more and leading to higher levels of satisfaction and professional performance.

The growth mindset encourages people to take risks and face challenges. With a growth mindset, they see mistakes as learning opportunities rather than roadblocks. Recognizing that all are capable of improvement through learning, leaders with a growth mindset help build continuous learning into their team’s framework.

2. Demonstrate and Encourage Empathy and Optimism

Empathy is quickly becoming one of the most important skills for leaders and helps teams become resilient. There is science behind positive, mindful leadership; research shows that empathetic and optimistic leadership can drive success. A study by Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan found that optimists are “six times more likely to be highly engaged at work, and five times less likely to burn out than pessimists.”

Using a practice called cognitive restructuring, leaders can help themselves and their teams become more optimistic by consciously challenging negative self-limiting thinking and replacing it with more optimistic thought patterns. It starts with making a difference in behavior and leadership. In the virtual environment, for example, leaders can begin to practice empathy and lead by example with two simple behavioral changes:

    • Cameras off: allowing employees to turn off their cameras when they need to and, as leaders, turning off their camera when needed, taking away the pressure to be constantly “on.”
    • 25-minute meetings: keeping meetings to 25 rather than 30 minutes, allowing for a five-minute break between meetings and providing an opportunity for team members to collect their thoughts, be in the moment, and better understand what is expected before entering their next meeting.

3. Nurture Innovation

Empowerment through innovation is also crucial in building organizational resiliency. Empowering employees to be creative and take risks creates a group mindset that builds a culture of innovation and encourages team members to ask how they can think outside of the box to solve business challenges and take a new approach to their work.

Zoom’s “all-in-one communications” offering, Zoom for Home – DTEN ME, developed amid the pandemic, is an example of this innovative thinking. Recognizing that many employees would be on video calls and working remotely, Zoom put together a package that featured everything needed to be effective on video calls. Valuing such creative thinking led Zoom to recognize the need to take a customer-centric approach to the business, enabling the company to pivot operations to remain agile in order to meet changing customer pain points and needs.

Preparing for What’s to Come

Developing growth mindsets, empathetic leadership and innovation is vital during times of change. These mechanisms help leaders identify which skills they need to build among employees to create resilient teams, all while retaining and developing top talent. No longer does the task of fostering resiliency fall solely to learning and development. Now, leaders across business units will be expected to step up to the plate to help create a future-fit workforce.

While today’s challenge is a pandemic, tomorrow will bring new challenges. Resilience and agility are vital for organizations to withstand what comes next and turn challenges into opportunities.

Editor’s note: Don’t miss our infographic on modern leadership development, which shares insights from learning leaders like this one.