Six things 2021 taught us

Jim Bouchard is an internationally recognized speaker, trainer, executive mentor, and author. His books include “The Sensei Leader” and “Think Like a Black Belt.” He will be speaking at Wood Pro Expo California.

Every catastrophe has its blessings. Leading the people we serve through a pandemic is no different.

Don’t get me wrong — I want this behind us as much as anyone. It’s just that experience has taught me there are valuable lessons in every struggle. In every challenge there are opportunities to learn, grow and develop.
That is if we’re willing to tear in and take a good, hard look. 

That is sometimes difficult and often painful. But it’s always worth the effort. How have the latest challenges impacted your organization? And most importantly, how have they impacted your teams? How have they impacted YOU?

Work from home, endless Zoom meetings, reduced interaction with co-workers and customers have all created stress, fatigue and a loss of connection we have not seen in a long time. For many leaders, this is your first experience with this level of uncertainty, rapidly changing priorities and anxiety.

These challenges can sharpen our skills, help us discover new talents, and improve the way we lead and relate to others. I’m going to highlight some of the areas leaders are telling us were either heightened, sharpened or learned through the pandemic. And, of course, we’re not out of the woods yet!

#1 Show them you CARE!
This was by far the most important and impactful action leaders reported to us throughout this difficult time. Even the simplest act of caring and seemingly insignificant gestures became inspiring moments that literally got people through the darkest times.

Leaders we work with were reaching out and simply asking people these simple questions:
How are you doing?
How is your family?
Is there anything I can do to make your life a little easier right now?

That’s just scratching the surface, but you see the point. Simple — effective. It’s well documented that people perform at their best when they know their leaders care.

#2 Focus on the positive.
It’s too easy to get caught up in a cycle of doom and gloom, especially when we’re bombarded 24/7 with reports of the worst. Leaders who produced the best results were those who focused on the positive and kept their people focused on what they COULD do instead of what they COULDN’T. This will continue to be important as we prepare for 2022 – and beyond.

#3 Loyalty and trust 
Loyalty and trust must be given first in order to be returned. Especially in the sudden transformation to the Work From Home age, people produced more when their leaders showed them trust. Their people stayed loyal when leaders were understanding and stuck with them as they were directly affected by COVID or had family and loved ones who were.

#4 Identify your rising leaders
Some of your best leaders are on the front lines.

Genuine leadership has nothing to do with rank, title or position of authority. Your front-line staff is the face of your business, and a prospective customer’s first impression. Organizations and leaders who shared power and authority and gave their front-line personnel the autonomy to make decisions and react to rapidly changing conditions and sometimes difficult situations on the front lines were those who transformed chaos into success.

#5 IEG strategies
The most successful leaders during this time practiced our IEG strategies.

INSPIRE: They inspired their teams. And the most inspiring acts were simple.

Leaders inspired through simple, but genuine expressions of caring like those we talked about earlier. And the most effective leaders inspired by example — particularly by staying positive, hopeful and by demonstrating courage and steadiness as conditions worsened.

EMPOWER: The most successful leaders made sure their teams had the resources, training and support they needed to keep the work going, and this was not easy at times! Again, they gave their teams autonomy and the power to get the job done and they kept the lines of communication open and flowing in all directions.

GUIDE: The best leaders are good teachers, coaches, and mentors. This is especially important when times are tough. Challenges are great teaching moments, if we engage others and share the process.

Time will show that some of your best future leaders were forged in the fires of the COVID-19 pandemic — if you gave them your attention and guided them in their development during this mess.

#6 Take care of yourself
Be sure to take care of yourself as you take care of others.

Take care of yourself. Really. You’re human, too, and you can’t possibly lead effectively without taking the time to regroup, reflect and recharge. What have you got to give to others if you’re completely exhausted, drained and if you’re not practicing good self-care?

Rest, exercise, and most of all, be sure to give yourself some time to learn, grow and develop. Do some after-action self-assessment. The decisions you make and the actions you take during this time, both good and bad, can help you become an even more effective leader — if you take the time to reflect, learn and evolve.

Now here’s the rub.

As things calm down, (I won’t say get back to “normal”), it’s too often too easy to forget the lessons we learned and let go of the best practices we adopted under fire.

The key is “DISCIPLINE.”
Discipline is the development and practice of purposeful and meaningful habits. As I said, take some time to reflect. Identify the lessons you’ve learned and the positive practices you’ve developed and adopted over the past several months. Study what worked and what didn’t. And share those lessons with others.

I started this article by saying every catastrophe reveals blessings. To make a positive impact on our lives, blessings must be acknowledged and most of all — appreciated.

Pliny the Elder wisely said: “The only certainty is uncertainty.”

We’ve all experienced some terrible moments over the past year. Many of us have faced daunting uncertainty, painful losses, separation, and real dangers.

But here we are. 

If we can appreciate the blessings that came from these challenges, we’ll be ready, and we can help others prepare for the next one. And we know there will be a next one!

“Celebrate adversity. It’s your opportunity to become the person you might never have discovered without it!” 
— from “Think Like a Black Belt.”

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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About the author
Jim Bouchard | President/Owner/C-Level

Jim Bouchard is an internationally recognized speaker, trainer, executive mentor, and author. His books include “The Sensei Leader” and “Think Like a Black Belt.” You can connect with Jim on LinkedIn at and contact him directly at [email protected]. Phone him at 207-751-4317.