2021 is coming with a new bottle of bourbon

We waited for the chimes to ring in 2021.

2020 had been raucous and disrupted every inch of our lives.

A popular meme made its way around social media in anticipation of the new year.

“Y’all think 2020 was bad. Just wait until it turns 21 and starts drinking.”

We had high hopes for things to calm as we wound down 2020. Maybe we would feel more normal, and then, it just “went to hell in a handbasket,” as my grandma used to say.

December 25. January 6. Dates with new meaning.

Four hundred lights along the reflecting pool in remembrance of all those we lost to COVID.

With every new year, there are new hopes and new resolutions and 2021 was no different.

New Year’s Resolutions Rarely Last

Those inspiring resolutions – well 80% are broken by the end of January and only 8% actually achieve their New Year’s goals.

With 55% of all resolutions often relating to health and finances, here is what many 2021 resolutions may look like:

  1. Remember to write 2021 on checks, not 2020.
  2. Lose weight. 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
  3. Go to the gym 5  3 1 time(s) a week. 2019 2020 2021
  4. Floss after every mealOnce a day. When something is stuck in my teeth.
  5. Actually put on a full outfit for Zoom calls
  6. Wear pants without elastic waistbands at least once a week

There have been deeply troubling days, yet there have also been good, even great days.

2020 – It Was a Tough Year for Leaders

As a leader, 2020 proved to be a challenge in leading people like never before, which often left few choices and caused many leaders to regularly rethink their options.

For leaders, 2020 was focused on survival of their organizations, leaders, and themselves. And it was not all about business; it became very personal and just plain weird at times.

Those things that used to annoy us, and previously viewed as unprofessional, often became accepted as a part of life. And in humorous ways, it showed us the real life of our leaders.

The Fun Side of New Times

One of my favorite virtual meetings had it all. I watched this leader and her two young girls as they ran back and forth in the background. She had no idea. I started giggling as it reminded me of the only funny scene in the 1978 movie Ishtar. It is the scene where Dustin Hoffman is resting and is oblivious to the vultures gathering around him.

And as if on cue, her husband walked into the hall next to her while he was on a phone call, loudly discussing a significant business action. He was in the field of view, and it was clear she was irritated. She turned her webcam so he was out of sight.

It is over, right? No.

Utterly oblivious to the fact his wife is on a call, he walks into the room and sits down next to her as he vibrantly continues his discussion of this major deal. Her horrified expression of “You have got to be kidding me!” was priceless. I lost it.

Dogs snoring in the background. People eating, brushing their teeth, and who knows what else were regular occurrences as the virtual meetings became more relaxed over time and people forgot they were on screen. And it continues today.

It Is Time to Evaluate

As we near the end of January 2021, it is indeed time to take stock of where you, your leaders, and your organization are positioned and answer with a whole mug full of truth.

Here are questions to ask yourself before the month closes out.

  • What is the state of myself as a leader: mentally, emotionally, physically? What is the impact I have had during these unlikely times we have faced? What impact am I having today?
  • What is the actual performance of my business? What possible landscape changes will push my business around and either improve or detract from my operations?
  • What is the actual state of my leadership team, as a group, and as individual leaders?

Everything and Everyone Must Be Focused

The success divergence of businesses is real, and it happened quickly. Some companies are outpacing all previous plans and struggling to get resources and supply chains in a place where they can keep up with demand. Other companies have seen significant reductions in business and are fighting for survival. The gap is real, it is clear, and there are very few left in the middle.

Leaders spend a good amount of time assessing, adjusting, and then accelerating operations, and rightly so.

As the focus on business strategy, operations, and responding to daily changes takes over, never lose sight of the people, all the people in your organization.

  1. Communicate, communicate, and communicate more. As the reliance on email and virtual meetings continues, the hallway meetings and lunch “catch me up” conversations have ceased to exist. Those short conversations never seemed important until now, and the impact of not having them has become real. Employees are struggling to feel fully informed.
  2. Transparency needs to dial up to 100%. Now is the time for robust and truthful storytelling, so leaders and employees feel like they are sitting in the powerful spot of ‘informed.’ Allowing them to execute their jobs thoroughly.
  3. Ask many questions. Leave more time for Q&A. Prompt employees with questions. “If I were you, I might be asking…”
  4.  If you say to one person, “That is a great question,” say it to everyone. The last thing you want to do is potentially make others feel dismissed because their questions were not great. The feeling of exclusion drives engagement down. Your organization needs a boost in discretionary effort from all employees. Going above and beyond the job requirements is a choice each employee makes on their own. As a leader, your job is to embolden your employees, not discourage them while they sit at home asking themselves if they would rather get their laundry done now, or complete a work assignment. Rather than evaluate the worthiness of each question with a good or great question response, wait until the end and tell them all, “Thank you for your thoughtful questions. Keep them coming.”
  5. Be empathetic to your employees. The stress of our times is taking its toll on the mental health of everyone in different ways. You never really know what people are going through in the moment.
  6. Show gratitude for the difficult days behind you, today, and ahead of you – for all your employees. They need to hear they matter.

Look, 2021 is not going to give you a pass. As a matter of fact, with a new Kentucky bourbon bottle in hand, she is going to give you all she’s got. Your role as leader continues to be one that will have to shift first, before anyone else. Your responsibility will continue to maintain a keen awareness of how you impact your teams, leaders, and business.