On January 13, 2021, Logos President Helio Fred Garcia was quoted in an article in CEO Blog Nation about key takeaways from 2020. In the article, 20 entrepreneurs and business owners from across industries shared the tough lessons they learned during 2020. For Garcia, his 2020 takeaway was to take risks seriously.
“2020 has been a year of crisis – both because of the pandemic and the crises that have stemmed out of our response to the pandemic,” Garcia explained. “We have seen that governments, industries, and businesses that took the risks of the pandemic seriously were able to adapt quickly to mitigate those risks; those who didn’t take the risks seriously often failed to respond to the crisis in a timely and effective ways with harmful results. As we go into 2021, we need to take risks seriously and do all that we can to mitigate those risks quickly.”
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The first American case of COVID-19 was diagnosed on January 20, 2020.
Exactly one year later Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.
What happened in the United States in between is different from what happened in other developed countries.
Twenty million Americans contracted COVID-19 between the first case and the end of the year.
2020 was the single deadliest year in American history. The first U.S. COVID-19 fatality was on February 6. By year end another 351 thousand Americans had died from the virus. For context, that is more than all the U.S. combat fatalities in World War II and Vietnam combined, but in a single eleven-month period rather than in the 24 years of those wars. For several weeks in December we were seeing the equivalent of a 9/11 casualty rate every day, with total 2020 COVID-19 fatalities equal to 118 separate 9/11 attacks.
Much of this was avoidable. And yet, here we are. So the question is – why did this happen?
It was a year that changed everything: what it means to be “at work” or “at school”; how we visit the doctor; how we greet each other; how we shop for groceries and other goods; how we say goodbye to loved ones as they take their final breath.
It was a year of great trauma: medical, emotional, spiritual, economic, social.
And it was a year that saw great sacrifice and some of the best of humanity: in the front-line medical workers, in the agility of many companies to re-imagine their business models and their product offerings, in the emergence of a new class of heroes – postal workers, delivery drivers, and grocery clerks, who risked infection to keep us supplied.
And it was a year that intensified much that had already been fraying in the fabric of American civic life: hyper-polarization in politics, mistrust of each other and of civic institutions, and the shattering of social and political norms.
After decades of one party discrediting science – from refusing to accept the reality of evolution, to redefining when human life begins, to denying the reality of climate change – we saw millions of Americans deny what scientists, public health experts, and their own doctors told them: that the virus is real, that it is deadly, that you can transmit it even when asymptomatic; and that masking, distancing, and handwashing are keys to prevention. The American population seemed to divide into those who believe what science teaches and those who choose not to. But as a popular T-shirt and internet meme noted, Science Doesn’t Care What You Believe.
The pandemic coincided with one of the most bizarre and contentious presidential election campaigns in American history, in which despite no evidence of fraud the sitting president refused to acknowledge defeat and lost more than 50 lawsuits challenging the results. And who for the eight weeks between the election and the new year seemed to give up on being president. He stayed out of sight and silent on anything having to do with the pandemic, even as fatalities approached the 350 thousand mark and infections soared to 20 million, and as he rage-tweeted about the so-called “massive fraud” that had prevented his re-election.
But the hardships were real and were devastating. In the weeks before and after Christmas, hospitalization rates reached record highs, with whole regions, including southern California, reporting zero intensive care beds available. At least one Los Angeles hospital started treating patients in the gift shop; another in a cafeteria; yet another in its chapel. But the real shortage was of medical personnel to treat the record number of patients. Doctors began talking about the need to choose which patients to treat, and which to leave to die.
The nation saw the infection rate grow by a million cases every few days. And despite pleas from public health officials and hospital front-line workers, Americans continued to travel for the holidays, risking what health workers called a surge on top of a surge. And some governors refused to require citizens to wear masks in public. Florida’s governor even forbade Florida cities and counties from requiring masks and social distancing in their jurisdictions. And the White House, the State Department, and other federal agencies held dozens of holiday parties indoors and without a masking requirement: yet more super-spreader events.
It did not need to be this way.
Much of the suffering, the hardship, the sacrifice could have been avoided. It resulted from a lethal combination of incompetence, dishonesty, and neglect.
The United States, alone in the world, intentionally refused to follow or mandate basic public health steps: a national masking, distancing, testing, and contact tracing policy. There was no whole of government response; at best there were fragments of government responses. And some parts of the government seemed to be at war against other parts. Indeed, some parts of government seemed to be at war against themselves, such as the White House Pandemic Task Force, where in a single press conference the politicians would contradict the public health experts, and vice versa.
The president and other senior government officials modeled the opposite of the public health guidelines, remaining unmasked in public and holding super-spreader events where the crowd was unmasked and packed close together – in violation also of local masking and distancing ordinances.
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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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
https://www.logosconsulting.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/2021-Will-Be-a-Great-Year-I-blog-maidazheeng.jpg408612Maida Zhenghttps://www.logosconsulting.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/HQ-Lambda-Consulting-Lockup-1030x562.pngMaida Zheng2020-12-17 09:15:012021-09-03 20:18:142021 Will Be a Great Year