24 Dec 2020 18:55 IST

Lessons from the year past for the year ahead

For leaders, this will be a year that they will not wish again, but will take valuable lessons from

It’s Christmas time and the year is drawing to a close. Listening to friends and relatives, Christmas won’t be the same and New Year will be eagerly awaited if nothing else for 2020 to be behind us. But while many have a Covid story of despair, there have also been many Covid stories of hope. Often, unexpected good came — good that may never have come without the circumstances created by Covid. So, while it has been a tough year, there have also been silver linings, lessons that we can take into the new year ahead.

Realisations

The year was full of new and often surprising realisations. We realised we had many blessings to count. In small decisions, leaders displayed what really mattered, what they stood for. We realised that work was not all that mattered. Everyone re-discovered what home meant, realised how much they had taken for granted people who cared for them. Employees realised they were yearning for the water-cooler conversations, the corridor encounters, the his and byes in the aisles. Teams realised that hi-tech needed hi-touch. Real beats virtual most times.

Leaders saw hidden strengths in their team mates, now rise to the surface as teams evolved and adapted to the changed environment. Team mates discovered that there was much they did not know about colleagues they thought they were close to.

Colleagues who were shirkers in the office were still shirkers when it was work-from-home. Those who were committed and drove themselves, stayed the same even during work-from-home.

As individuals we re-discovered the joy of giving. We realised how little we really needed. Many found creative and innovative ways to give and make a difference and found the act of giving was twice blessed.

As the whole world shut down and the usual externals were frozen, we were all forced to spend some time looking at internals we may have neglected. Author Mary Daly, in her work on happiness, showed how countries that routinely ranked higher on self-declared happiness levels — Switzerland, Denmark, Iceland had higher suicide rates than countries that ranked lower on the happiness scale — Greece, Italy or Portugal. What’s at work there? Of course, one is ‘relative deprivation’ — the term coined by psychologist Samuel Stouffer, which Daniel Goleman referred to in his book David & Goliath. But I also think in some way, the happier countries had all the externals in place — great health care, lower crime rates, better education but perhaps the internals weren’t. In countries worse off on those parameters, the internals appeared to be more in place, people found solace and joy in internal things, in smaller things. Leaders discovered the same thing — joy came from the small things, peace came from the simple things, love was shown in time spent together. What better message from the Christmas season? 

Relationships

As my friend and Co-Founder, Pradeep mentioned on our Christmas Townhall call, this Covid year showed us how much relationships mattered. Covid helped us see which relationships were strong and which were frayed. It helped us see who we could count on whom and who were just fair-weather friends. It showed us the strength of compassion and care that others had for us. It nudged us to reach out beyond our comfort circles. It showed us that people mattered more than possessions. Strong relationships survived the social distances and work-from-home that Covid created. Relationships at home that were not tended pre-Covid were assaulted with the proximity that work-from-home created. Businesses found an opportunity to stay connected.

Smart leaders took advantage of a lockdown-landscape to stand out in front of their leads, their prospects, their customers and be noticed. Leaders reached out to employees to keep them engaged. They communicated more, not less. They continued to provide the clarity and conviction that teams needed. Leaders had to demonstrate that ‘caring’ was not a sound bite. In many cases they put employee needs ahead of business compulsions and walked the talk on caring.

Relationships grew and were built well beyond the usual boundaries of the workplace. When an ex-colleague’s father passed away, her first calls of support were from her old team, not her current one. Her first financial support came pouring in from former colleagues, not her current ones.

Someone else shared about how the Covid-created circumstances helped uncovered the malice, selfishness and indifference of a current relationship that gave him the clarity and strength to release himself from it. Something he knows may never have happened without Covid.

Resilience

Covid showed us our strength. Our ability to bounce back. Businesses, teams, individuals — everyone was affected in some way. Covid clawed from each some cost. Some gave in and wilted under the pressure, but many found they had inner reservoirs of resilience that helped them bounce back.Offline businesses found ways to go online. Local businesses found ways to go international. Businesses found they could achieve far more with far less. Some businesses found that pre-Covid projects that would have taken months were now possible in weeks or days. Those with a leader-mindset asked for new work. They forced themselves to learn new skills, they adapted. They became more valuable to their organisation, to their colleagues and to their customers. Many reached out to mentors and coaches to understand themselves better and continue to grow.

Some employees were laid off and decided to try their hand at entrepreneurship. Some entrepreneurs failed at their first, second and third ideas but stuck it out to make the fourth a winner.

One of our Consultant Facilitators shared how she had no LinkedIn account, no Instagram account before Covid. She started on them during Covid, made time to learn how to make the best of the platforms, stayed consistent on engaging and soon built a 2000-follower-milestone on Instagram. Work that she used to struggle for is now pouring in.

For leaders this will be a year that they will not wish again, but that they will also take valuable lessons from — lessons that no other year could have given them.

Father Joe Mannath in his beautiful book You Surprised Me writes of "harvesting joy from fields of pain." That has been the challenge for this year past. Some chose to whine and complain, but some chose to harvest joy from a field of pain. That is what leaders do. Wishes to all my readers for a very Blessed Christmas and a Joy-filled New Year! May the lessons of the year past serve our leadership well in the years ahead.