In 2020, the pandemic kickstarted a series of new challenges for CEOs and their companies. The shutdowns and closures of office buildings with as many people working remotely as possible but essential workers being forced to work in factories, medical facilities, and emergency services. Fasten your seatbelt for what’s next!

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What challenges does 2021-2022 bring?

In 2021 and the upcoming year or so, these new challenges are in progress or being considered and addressed. Priorities are different depending on each company situation, but let’s explore the top 6 new challenges that are driving change:

  • Diversity, Inclusion, and Equality
  • Transgender Diversity
  • Social Justice and Social Issues
  • Politics
  • Generational Changes and Demands
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The traditional day-to-day and strategic challenges for CEOs are already causing some to lose sleep, but these new top 5 for 2021 exponentially can become back-breakers for many CEOs! As last year proceeded through the pandemic and contentious election, social justice issues that became very difficult to lead through exacerbated leadership day-to-day challenges. Throw in heated transgender discussions from sports participation to use of restrooms, the ever changing generational demands as baby boomers retire and millennials and generation Z’ers move into CEO and other leadership positions the business world all of a sudden had an entire new set of “lose sleep” issues to address.

New Roles on Senior Leadership Teams

CEOs have added new roles to their senior leadership teams to manage and study Diversity and Inclusion. A simple LinkedIn search resulted in over 670,000 open positions as VPs, Directors or Senior Managers. Some report to Human resources, some to the COO and many directly to the CEO. This is a sensitive and serious role that needs to be filled.

Some of the companies hiring these positions through LinkedIn include Citi, Facebook, ESPN, Goldman Sachs, Ameriprise and myriads of others of all sizes.

How are CEOs learning about how to handle these 6 top challenges? CEO peer groups, coaches and advisors, the National Diversity Council, several professional societies and alumni groups, and networking with other CEOs.

Ideas to Address the New Challenges

How does a CEO kickoff the programs inside the company to attack these hot and always debated topics? One idea being utilized is to appoint a Board of Directors champion and sponsor to work with the CEO. A serious amount of education is required. Meeting with leaders of the groups representing Diversity and Inclusion, Gender Diversity such as LGBQT, veterans, disabilities, police and law enforcement, regulators for AI and whatever avenues are open. Local colleges and universities may offer classes to help the CEOs and leaders. These are daunting tasks.

All these new challenges are in addition to all normal CEO responsibilities such as profitability, customer retention, employee relations, revenue growth, expense management, facilities management, the pandemic and return to office discussions, and whatever is unique to every company.

Evolving Culture Due to the New Challenges

Just think about how all of these new day-to-day challenges affect company culture. If there is already a solidly grounded culture, it will help facilitate managing the newer issues, but without that, all bets are off the table for success. The tasks will require organization, project management, sensitivity, diverse views and discussions, and decisions on implementation

Let’s explore the tip of the iceberg beyond the Diversity and Inclusion part discussed above. Managing Transgender and LGBTQ topics can be extremely sensitive. These issues have been around for years. Now they have risen to the top echelon of CEO challenges. These can come in any size company, even early stage startups.

Social Justice and Social Issues have also risen to the top, as we’ve seen over the past year. The debates cross law enforcement lines, social workers (i.e defund the police, which has started already in some cities), and political lines as witnessed this past election year. Even voting systems can cause internal debates that in the past might be a short break room or water cooler chat, but now with social media people posting their opinions, they can become very powerful and electric discussions.

The Impact of Generational Demands

As every generation changes over, we are experiencing leadership changes from baby boomers to millennials and in some cases Generation Z leaders. As I experienced with my father, and my kids experience with me, the philosophies of the new leaders play into these top 6 2021 challenges. Why? Everything is happening in parallel and the workforce is mixed generational. Very challenging times!

I can tell you, I am not an expert on any of these new issues, but I have spoken to several CEOs who are optimistic but cautious, truly want to address and resolve these challenges, and solidify their workplace cultures. The ability to achieve the desired outcomes and results rests with their sensitivities to all factions.

Artificial Intelligence

We are experiencing the growth and spread of new AI applications from marketing and sales to financial parts of the business. Some of the Ai technology can simply be creepy and may violate privacy laws. New government regulation groups, financial regulators, FTC, and the EU have working teams studying AI use in-depth. Remember, the EU had a huge impact on global businesses due to GDPR, and it could happen again with AI.


I hope this article helps open the eyes of many people on all sides of the equation and that they are willing to work together regardless of individual beliefs and philosophies.

Speaking of philosophies, I invite you to read my book, The Rookie CEO, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up! to learn more about how new CEOs will lead, how they can succeed, regardless of their backgrounds, philosophies, and leadership styles and how these affect the culture they will create as a new CEO or leader. The framework I utilize in my book will help guide how the CEO will handle these new challenges!

Thank you for stopping by and visiting the CEO Insights blog!