The year 2020 will go down in the history books forever.

This year is riddled with so much emotion. (It has all of the elements of perfect storytelling; I have a feeling there is enough trauma, drama, ridiculousness, and entertainment here that someone may even make a Broadway play out of it many years from now. Who knows?)

But in all seriousness, I want to start this blog post by channeling my inner Brené Brown and acknowledge that I don’t really know what to say, nor do I have all the answers. The fact is that so many of us – too many of us – have endured pain, loss, heartbreak, and unfathomable change over the course of 2020. There is nothing I can say to make that pain go away. All I hope I can do is acknowledge that what you are feeling is real and hope you know that it is okay to feel whatever you may be feeling.

As we enter the new year, we don’t quite know what will come next. But we do know that as more and more people get the COVID-19 vaccine, we can start to reimagine how we will move forward and thrive in 2021.

In reflecting on this past year, our team at Logos Consulting Group thought about the biggest lessons learned in 2020 and what the most important skills will be in 2021.  Here are the five key skills we identified:

Be Ready to Adapt

Near the beginning of the COVID pandemic, my teammate Katie Garcia talked about the importance of adaption. She said, “our ability to adapt is a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.” She added that we need to be on, “adaptation alert as circumstances change, and when the pandemic finally ends, organizations must be prepared to adapt yet again in a post-COVID-19 world, whatever that will look like.”

Regardless of what lies ahead, we need to tackle it with the resiliency that has helped us through this past year. (Read more about adaptability here).

Be Prepared

Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Good planning is an iterative process that helps us understand first and foremost the problem we are dealing with, as well as the risks. Good planning encourages us to take risks seriously. Good planning helps us foresee the foreseeable and be ready to tackle the unforeseeable. Good planning helps us adapt. And good planning prepares us for the pain when we realize that we didn’t plan enough.

2020 has taught us the necessity of good preparation, even in the face of the unknown. As we enter a new year, we need to be ready to tackle what is to come and take the pain when it is needed.

Be Authentic

As we look to lead our people in 2021, we need to be present, consistent, and authentic for our teams – in our behaviors, and with the signals we send.

Leadership expert Dr. Patrick Donahue talks about authenticity in his new book: The Power of Genuine Leadership: How Authentic Leaders Earn Trust. One of the key lessons in his book is that authenticity without guidelines is irresponsible; that authenticity without empathy is careless; and that humility is much more than a willingness to be vulnerable. To build trust requires authenticity, and authenticity is a combination of consistent communication, consistent coaching, and consistent respect over time. (You can read more about his new book by clicking here).

We need to be authentic as we face and lead through the uncertainty before us. And that requires both authenticity and empathy. As Dr. Donahue notes, “There is a common denominator between being a leader in the corporate world and in athletics – you need to be there for your team.”

Sometimes being there for your team means being there from the bench. Hall of Fame Soccer player, Abby Wambach said, “if you’re not a leader on the bench, then you’re not a leader on the field.” Be authentic and there for your team.

Practice Empathy

To empathize is to feel with someone. To be there for our team and for those we lead, we need to feel with them through the hurdles we will face in 2021.

Brené Brown talks to us about the nature of empathy in the animated video below. She reminds us that true empathy is the ability to connect with someone’s emotions, even if we may not have experienced the same struggle the other person is facing.

One of the things we saw time and again this year was the power of empathy in leaders and organizations. A good example of this analyzed by another one of my teammates, Yinnan Shen. Yinnan highlighted the empathy and leadership demonstrated by Arne Sorenson, the Marriott President and CEO when he delivered incredibly tough news to his employees around COVID-19. (You can read the article here).

If we want to show our people that we care for and are there for them, empathy is essential.

Empathy is the lifeblood of connection.

Stay Connected

2020 demonstrated to us the significance of connection and the toxicity of division. Recovery will not come unless we unite people together around a common goal.

2021 will require us to be connected (both literally and figuratively).

While many of us are burnt out from back-to-back Zoom meetings and jonesing to regroup in person as soon as possible, we need to remember that 2021 will be another year of change.

Next year, we must maintain connection to those who matter most to us, the corporate world calls them our stakeholders, at home we call them family.

We must find innovative ways to sustain and build connection while some people are able to regroup in person, while others are not yet able to. This means being prepared to adjust business plans (once again) and being prepared to flex your empathy muscle, because your people will need to know they are still connected to you and what you represent.

We don’t exactly know what will come next, but I have a feeling that 2021 will be a great year. And I hope you do too.