If there is one gift 2020 offered to the world, then perspective would be a suitable choice. As we reflect on the year that just passed, hindsight can truly be viewed as 20/20. That is, the year provided great insight for the world. Humanity as a collective discovered how to be better: More empathy, open-mindedness and appreciation for the many things that we used to take for granted. For example, the simple act of a hug, enjoying the company of family members at the dinner table and perhaps more significantly than any other state of being, the freedom to go about our daily lives without restrictions.
Organizations have also gained benefits from the unexpected, adverse circumstances. Although many leaders may not have initially viewed 2020 from a positive lens, the imperative of adapting to these challenging times provided numerous opportunities for introspection and improvement. Leaders can glean the following five key lessons that will continue to have relevance for years to come:
1. Trust is the foundation of leadership
For leaders who had already established high levels of trust, being heard but not necessarily “seen” (at least in the traditional sense) was an easier transition. As millions of people began working remotely for the first time, those leaders who had difficulty managing from a distance before the pandemic found themselves in new and even more challenging circumstances. Forging strong team relationships is a skill, and the ability to build trust is a prerequisite for leadership success, no matter the location of your workforce.
2. Expect the unexpected
Although many organizations were thrown a curveball of monumental proportions, accounting for disruption to “business as usual” is as old as Methuselah. For leaders everywhere, 2020 revealed gaps in preparing for the unexpected. For example, making the transition to serving more customers online was less arduous for public and private entities that had already strategized and subsequently digitized their operations well in advance of the pandemic.
Ensuring that crisis planning is constantly revisited and discussed at all levels mitigates the myriad of challenges associated with reacting, rather than responding adequately when the unexpected strikes. Rather than scrambling to adopt, maintaining awareness of technology and/or customer trends will continue to serve your organization well.
3. Change often brings opportunity
The pandemic served as a reminder that sudden, external events outside of a leader’s control can accelerate beneficial and often essential change that otherwise might not have occurred The words, “necessity is the mother of invention”, often accredited to Plato, a renowned Athenian philosopher, are apropos. Although many leaders and employees likely felt extreme discomfort that came with the need to adapt on the fly, the pressure to move beyond the status quo and quickly change direction resulted in innovative thinking and new business opportunities previously unimaginable. In addition, the exercise of cultivating fresh ideas under adverse circumstances can be invaluable for shifting your organizational culture to one that embraces change.
4. Resilience and optimism triumphs over difficulties
Unexpected crises illuminate the need for positive and proactive leadership. When you weather the storm and maintain an optimistic outlook, you position yourself and your workforce to manage future challenges. You can choose to put your best foot forward, make the best of your situation, and help your team to do the same. We can overcome seemingly impossible challenges by drawing upon our own inner resources. Self-directed leadership is essential in the face of ongoing, disruptive change and uncertainty. A leader who is able to model resilience and share their experiences of overcoming adversity is poised to make an immediate, significant difference.
5. Control what you can
What makes the difference between merely surviving and actually thriving is finding a way to control what you can. This is the single, most powerful lesson to help you and your organization remain future-ready to lead in real-time. Wasting energy on situations that are outside of your control will ultimately leave you drained. The “now” is all we know. It’s what we have. It’s the sum total of present moments and what we choose to do with them that prepares us for the unknown. The key to your success lies in how you decide to interpret or reframe your views on unexpected events or hurdles that will invariably present themselves. By controlling what you can, you are ideally positioned to appreciate the distinction between these two questions: “Why is this happening? and “Why is this happening to me?” You can choose to take the lead…and BE the lead in times of constant change.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
– Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, Author, Man’s Search for Meaning