Leadership lessons 2020 taught us

Seven leaders discuss the important lessons 2020 taught them

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Business News Daily

Loosening control is not losing control

The past year has taught me that I can actually be flexible, and go with the flow, and I have no doubt that I will be a better business leader as a result. By nature, I am a big planner and my style is very much to have everything organised well in advance. This year, of course, all of my best-laid plans have had to change – often at the last minute. Some ideas we have just had to put on hold, while others we have managed to adjust so they could still go ahead.

I love being in control, so have found this particularly challenging. Yet, our business has survived the unimaginable disruption of 2020 and has still managed to grow. June and July have been our busiest ever months for franchisee recruitment and, on top of this, I also managed to see my friends and family and even get a holiday – all of which I probably enjoyed and savoured far more because of the uncertain path to getting there.

– Vicky Matthews, co-founder, Pink Spaghetti

Leaders need to switch off too

This year has shown me that I work too hard and too long, most of the time. I’ve had a tendency to burn the candle at both ends but, with the lockdowns that we’ve had, the extra quiet time and the relaxation of many deadlines has meant that I have had the time and energy to think properly and get more on top of research and strategy than before.

It has taught me that I need to take more time out, and that doing so does not harm my business or slow things down. In fact, it is genuinely helpful to my work. If I’m honest, I’ve known for years that I should do this but this year has just forced me to experience its benefits. In future I will aim to make sure I get out into the park and have whole days off, even in the middle of busy periods.

– Jasmine Birtles, founder and director, MoneyMagpie

Change can be a good thing

Every business has been impacted by the pandemic; some businesses have, sadly, disappeared, some new businesses have been born, and some have pivoted. This year has taught me how quickly we can adapt to change and how, regardless of what is thrown at us, we can keep going and thrive. My belief is that the biggest constraints breed the best creativity. The coronavirus pandemic confined us to our boxes but helped us think ‘outside the box’.

We all fear change but I no longer fear it as much as I did. Change means opportunity to exercise our creative muscle and to find opportunities that were previously hidden –  like the farmer who started successfully renting out his goats as special guests on video calls; funny and brilliant.

Sometimes change happens slowly, and sometimes quickly. However it happens, we should not fear it; we will take it in our stride and adapt. Bring it on.

– Dan Gable, founder and CEO, ShoutOut

Remote working is still working

Nine months ago I wouldn’t have believed that we could work productively when working 100% from home. I certainly wouldn’t have thought video calls were adequate for communication, training and mentoring staff. It’s made me realise that it takes times of crisis to accelerate change and innovation.

This year has permanently changed my views on home working and, once the pandemic is over, we will adopt part-time home working permanently. I miss office life, social interaction, informal, unplanned collaboration and shared energy. However, I now believe this is achievable two-to-three days a week in the office in conjunction with working from home. This means, for future recruits, they could be based further afield, widening the available talent pool.

– Russell Horton, CEO, FluidOne

It’s okay to fail – and fail again

This year has taught me that it’s okay to fail. Fail at a marketing campaign, fail in setting up a new system, fail in launching a new company even! With COVID-19, I have had to become comfortable with failure because it was so inevitable.

If anything, before 2020 and COVID-19, sometimes the fear of failure drove us to overthink things, which didn’t always work. Perfection is the enemy of good. As a result we have actually been a lot more productive. Instead of worrying about making something perfect, we got things out quicker, even if there was a chance they’d fail. We’ve released many more features, more marketing campaigns, and learned and iterated faster.

Bring on 2021, when we can turn being comfortable with failure into success.

– Marja Verbon, founder, Jump

Honesty is the best policy

One of the key things I have learned is that authenticity is a strength – it’s not just something nice to say to motivate others. My authenticity has been the backbone of my resilience this year and I have to say that it has really helped me to know when to keep going and know when to rest. In an industry like PR – where, very often, we are invisible – being able to maintain my sense of self has kept me focused.

This is particularly important as a black business leader who has, on the one hand, been blessed enough to keep working but, on the other hand, had to maintain productivity in the midst of a pandemic and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter protests.

Being able to speak as honestly as possible with clients, and being authentic, has really empowered me this year.

– Ronke Lawal, founder, Ariatu PR

Don’t stick to the status quo

I’ve been holding myself back more than I ever realised, trying to ‘fit in’ with the way things are usually done. The chaos and unpredictability of the most worrying year in a generation has actually brought with it the freeing ability to do things differently; I’ve experienced the most profound personal and professional growth of my life.

There’s no way I’d be able to get back in the ‘old ways’ box now! As much as it has been a devastating year for the hospitality industry, it is a chance to hit reset and reconsider how businesses can be effective at attracting their most valuable customers, using real data rather than presumptions. So, in short, 2020 has really taught me to be true to what I believe, and to be unafraid if that seems at odds with, or different from, the status quo.

– Victoria Searl, founder, DataHawks

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