Reflections From 2020 To Prepare For The New Year

Jan 07, 2021 5 Min Read
What can we learn from 2020 to make 2021 a more meaningful year?

Blink and you missed it

Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.

~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

2020 was an interesting year, to be sure. Perhaps it will go down in history as the year that ushered in the Fourth Industrial Revolution as many in the World Economic Forum asserts. For now though, it remains to be seen if the world is ready to embrace a ‘global reset’, forgetting the past to espouse the new normal. 

Change is unpredictable, and often brings about challenges that are not only unprecedented but those that require adept leadership to steer a seamless and swift transformation. 

As the wise would urge, before moving forward; it’s best to look back for there are lessons to be drawn from our recent past for a more strategic move beyond 2020.

To this end, here are three main leadership lessons that are critical in determining the efficacy of those caught in the leadership crucibles of 2020.

1. Empathy | People-focused

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. No one likes to follow anyone who is insensitive to his or her particular circumstances, insignificant or not. 

When the pandemic hit, many leaders had to think out of the box. Some like Marriot Hotel CEO, Arne Sorenson found strength and courage in sharing their vulnerabilities with their team. In his video address to his global employees, he shared that he was facing his own health challenge in the form of cancer. 

By taking to the camera to address his global staff about how his organisation was handling the crisis, and sharing his personal health status, many perceived him as real, authentic and resonated with his struggle. 

No doubt this kind of transparency is rare from the C-Suite, but for those able to communicate with candor and courage, this can be a huge gain to their leadership and influence in the long haul.

Also Read: Beyond COVID-19, Creating a Legacy of Kindness

2. Innovation | Solutions-focused

Crises, though unwelcome, can lead to new breakthroughs in medicine, technological advances or improve ways of being among those self-aware and ready to seize emerging opportunities. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Some Americans felt pandemic or not, this was the best time to strike on their business ownership.” Others had to pivot and/or form new collaborations, mergers and acquisitions to remain sustainable. 

2020 demands that everyone reflect and examine whether we are capable of leading our lives, and the collective global citizenry with this first-rate intelligence. 

Still some stepped out to leverage their resources across various ecosystems in hopes of finding effective solutions to address pent-up demands as well as mitigate revenue drops–and at the same time creating sustainable meaningful work for their employees. 

According to Mckinsey, “Some automotive companies are shifting production to manufacture ventilators, for example, General Motors partnered with a US-based medical device company to produce respiratory care products. 

Additionally, new service partnerships that would otherwise not exist are now a reality. Meditation and mindfulness providers like Headspace app provide free subscriptions to healthcare professionals and have unlocked free content for consumers.

3. Rethink Purpose | Leadership-focused

Whether you are a student, a parent, an employee, a founder, CEO of a for or  non-profit, a community leader, a clergy or a nation’s leader–you must know why you’re in that role if your leadership is to translate to a positive impact to those you lead. 

The best leaders are those that have versatility. Able to keep their eyes on the long haul–why their entity exists, and at the same time focus on the current needs at hand. 

Consider how China handled the COVID-19 outbreak, or how the US handled the George Floyd murder. Clearly, hindsight is 20/20 and only by reflecting on what happened can we learn of what went wrong, how well we handled the crisis, and how to best improve for future unseen virus outbreaks and social upheaval respectively.

Inherently, leaders understand that change is daunting and at best inevitable. Purpose, and in particular purpose that inspires, thus becomes the best means by which to implement effective change.

One, because purpose compels a buy-in if your stakeholders believe in your cause, and two, because if well-communicated, purpose inspires your followers to enlist themselves and their resources as well as serve meaning for their lives because they believe in your vision.
It’s undeniable that the world as a collective is at a crossroads. With the need for a vaccine to address COVID-19 and any future pandemic, we the global citizenry need to rethink purpose on critical issues such as who gets the vaccine first.

 (editor’s note: me, obviously). 

Beforehand, we must collectively gain an understanding of what’s to be expected in event of future outbreaks, and how to best communicate and coordinate for containment.


Leader or not, none of us can predict the future. However, we know and anticipate that things beyond our control are inevitable. Therefore, an understanding that to lead one must be human first – showing empathy to those they lead while still leading in courage to make tough decisions – is an imperative. 

Decisions like collaborating with unlikely partners for  innovative solutions is possible when a leader is versatile, purpose-driven and capable of open-mindedness. To lead, after all, requires intelligence, the kind echoed by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

Evidently, 2020 demands that everyone reflect and examine whether we are capable of leading our lives, families, communities, organisations, businesses, nations and the collective global citizenry with this first-rate intelligence. 

What are your thoughts? How did you navigate 2020? Besides the disruption, what unique challenges did you face? Otherwise, what surprises did you unravel in terms of hidden successes? Please share in the comments below. 

Happy New Year.

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Carolyne is the founding principal at VPF Strategies, a strategic and leadership development firm helping professionals and leaders design and develop growth strategies to meet their goals: Thriving Wellness, Cultures and Businesses. She is a speaker, author of Being Grounded: 21 Days To Come Alive and Love Your Life, and a contributing writer for various publications.

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