Unprecedented. Uncertain. New normal. In reflecting on a year that brought these words into our daily lives, it’s easy to focus on the challenges they embody.
As leaders, it’s important not to let these words alone define the year—to give ourselves and the people we lead the space to process what they mean for each of our lives and to also continue building toward a better, more purpose-filled future.
One day, things will look and feel much more like they used to. Leaders, however, have an obligation to avoid returning to the old tropes. Instead, they should seek to carry forward the empathy and resilience born out of these turbulent times.
Here are four lessons from a year unlike any other that can guide leaders and their people into the months and years ahead, which are certain to bring about their own fair share of challenges:
1. Carry on, but not as if business is usual
There was nothing normal about the state of the world in 2020 and 2021. There has been immeasurable loss, and the constant grind of uncertainty has caused burnout at all levels.
That calls for more grace and empathy than ever before, and processing our collective grief is just as important to the bottom line as anything else that may fall under someone’s job description. We are in this for the long haul, and people need to know that it’s okay to not act as if it’s business as usual.
2. Allow resilience to emerge
Resilience isn’t something that can be taught. But as leaders, you can build a culture that empowers people to find their own.
Give grace and empathy, but also don’t sugarcoat things. Build a culture that takes transparency seriously and trusts that people can hold two contrasting views in parallel: that they are experiencing deep struggle every day and that they will be stronger because of it.
Resilience can only come from the individual and only in a culture that embraces it.
3. Bring clarity of purpose and priority
When so much is changing around us, it’s easy to focus on the details—the little things that we don’t actually have control over.
Where transparency can bring more certainty to uncertain times, clarity of purpose and priority gives people permission to focus on the big picture and let everything else go. Leaders set the tone for what gets prioritized: the day-to-day checkboxes or the work that makes a true impact toward a greater purpose.
4. Optimize for change
Society has changed. The way we work has changed. Our priorities have changed.
Leaders need to look at what has served them well and what hasn’t. We need to drop legacy systems and the outdated processes that are done a certain way “because they’ve always been done that way,” and optimize for a future where the pace of change will only accelerate.
There’s no doubt that the businesses of tomorrow are more digital, more diverse and offer employees greater flexibility. Leaders who don’t adapt will be left behind. In looking forward, the easy option will be to try to return to business as usual. True leaders will strive for something bigger and something better.
This article was originally published on IAmagazine.com.