Every company is dealing with what Sean McDermott, CEO of Windward Consulting Group and RedMonocle calls our “zone of discomfort.” In a prime example of forward-thinking leadership, McDermott explained to his employees in October that “the fear of the unknown is present and would be here to stay through 2021.” And he’s not alone.

Leaders around the world are finding themselves in the awkward place of trying to move their businesses forward, while change in the outside world continues to ramp up. Executives are going to be thrust into larger leadership roles inside their organizations as productivity and employee morale begin to suffer from the impact of headlines of U.S. and global unrest.

Executives will need to pay more attention to the global economy in 2021. The former strength of the U.S. markets are not indicators of what we can expect over the next 2-3 years. Instead, we can expect diversification of investments out of core areas and into new more innovative markets. As such, we can also expect new forms of payment to emerge that will require innovation in in-store and digital commerce platforms.

People will be seeking safety. Things that feel stable, like secure bets. But there won’t be many. The risk-adverse will feel especially uneasy. Instead, focus on those who understand this game is about optimizing risk and opportunity. The executive that understands risk is a leverage point and will never be fully eradicated will see opportunities the risk-adverse simply can’t. They will use risk to their advantage in creating market opportunities their competitors are too slow or too scared to take.

People will be seeking a form of inner peace. The road has been rocky and the desire to end the inner turmoil of anxiety and fear is high. That being said, the external world is going through a massive global restructuring of power, resources and our global economy.

People will be seeking more freedom at work. Freedom of choice, freedom of opportunity, freedom of education, freedom of expression are a few of many themes you can expect to see a rise to the forefront of the conversation. This will also translate into workplace culture. Employees will expect more freedom of choice in every aspect of their employment.

People will be seeking stability. Talent retention is at the forefront of high tech industries. We will have no choice but to respond and work towards building a “we are all on one team” culture. We want to feel stable in our employment and that requires on-going communication about what’s happening both inside and outside the company.

So what do you do next? There is a core thought experiment that I think is important for leadership teams to consider as we try to move forward with some semblance of confidence during 2021.

Here’s how to run a thought experiment

Gather your executive team and ask the following questions. Create boundaries and rules for the conversation. You will need to remind people that speaking over each other is ineffective. If these questions are worth their weight they will drive inspired conversation. That’s because they are juicy questions that don’t have the right answers on the surface. And that’s why it’s so important for leadership teams to start asking them, right now.

  1. How can we make win-win-wins the standard in our organization? How can we build a “we’re on one team” culture that spreads? Who are our cultural influencers inside the organization and how can we empower and inspire them to join us in spreading this cultural shift?
  2. Who are our cultural detractors? Which employees create resistance in the engine? Who is running a hero, villain, and victim story? Who is playing a me vs them game? Who will have a hard time being a strong team player with their colleagues? What should we do about these employees? How do we hire for culture moving forward?
  3. How can we contribute to increasing the level of freedom our employees have in every aspect of their life? How can we respond to one-off requests? How can we scale requests that are frequent? What systems do we have in place that we could leverage to speed up our organization’s response rates? Do we need to make any modifications to our current policies or procedures?
  4. How can we create safe and productive spaces of self-expression for employees who are affected by the events happening in the external world? What resources do we have available for employees who can use additional support? How do we offer them in a way that the employees who need them feel safe to use them? How can we lead by example?
  5. How can we take the productive energy force behind anxiety and fear and instead point it towards something positive that moves the organization, our culture and society forward? How can we point it towards a near-term market opportunity that has BIG short-term, mid-term and long-term payoffs?
  6. What political position will we take? Will we publicly discuss our position? If so, what conditions of satisfaction do we have for how, where and when we communicate? Who will lead communications? Who will approve communications?
  7. What will we communicate with our employees about what is happening in the external world? How can we be direct, honest and build trust through these communications? How can we be up-front about what we do and most importantly, what we do NOT know throughout the year without feeding fear?

YOU are part of creating a new organization, like it or not. Leaders who are moving towards a more compassionate way of doing business that unifies the organization while understanding its greater role in society are primed to win.

There is no question. This is unknown territory. To be an effective leader we must step back from the chaos. This is our time. Our call to adventure. We can choose to step into our role as a leader and apply everything we’ve learned throughout our careers.

As employers, we have a responsibility to act in the well-being of our employees and customers during a time where the future looks bright but is currently going through an uncomfortable transition. We have immense influence on the lives of a lot of people. It’s time to use our leadership superpowers for good and evolve into organizations designed to spread and foster freedom AND opportunity.

Because that’s the American way.