Reflection and Learnings: Leadership in a Pandemic

Jan 13, 2021

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – John C. Maxwell


2020 presented leaders across industry and the globe with unprecedented times. That word unprecedented has been used a lot, but in the context of what many experienced last year it’s particularly relevant. 

During these times of crisis and unexpected change, business leadership is faced with challenges, but it’s also an opportunity to learn, pivot, rethink the way things have been done and plan the right the course for the future. 

Here are some reflections for you to ponder and potentially take with you as you shape what 2021 and beyond will mean for your business.  



As leaders, we craft a plan and guide our teams along the way to achieve the goals set out in that plan. With the constant uncertainty, how did 2020 test your plan? Was it flexible enough to respond to the changes that came your way?

Even if you didn’t have a plan, what did 2020 teach you and your team about the way you work; how you work as a team and the work you do? How can they help fuel success in future years? 

This iterative and reflective approach will empower your future planning and supercharge your team’s effectiveness. 


  • Take time out with your team to reflect on what worked and what didn’t last year.
  • Map everyone’s thoughts across a traffic light review of the previous year – what do you want to stop; what do you want to continue and what do you need to start?
  • Schedule quarterly check-ins to make sure you’re on track or if there needs to be an adjustment in the plan.

Priorities and decisions

So, you have a plan and you’re back in your day to day, often other priorities pop up or ‘opportunities not to be missed’ appear and can distract you from what you originally set out. Add a pandemic to the mix, and this can hamper the ability to achieve your goals.

Flexibility and communication are key when situations such as these arise, get together with your team and collectively get clear on what needs to happen for the business and what, from your plan, you can temporarily park until there’s some stability.

Getting everyone involved in the decision making and mapping the team’s workload provides shared accountability for getting it done.


  • As a leader, be clear with your own leaders about the priorities set for the team for any given period. When change happens and if not a function of a pandemic or other macro-economic event, before agreeing to changes in priorities, be prepared to acknowledge the set priorities. Understand what will need to give rather than continuing to expand the team load.
  • Ensure in every team meeting; there is a workload check-in and priorities discussion. This regular check-in will ensure everyone is on track to achieve their goals, and the team goals are on their way to being achieved. 
  • Take the time in 1:1 sessions with individual team members to check in on their workload. 



How businesses operate in some instances has dramatically changed in 2020. The key to withstanding the change is the agility within your business to pivot, and how ready you are to lead your teams through it.

As you reflect on the previous year, did you need to pivot as a business or team? Were there any changes you made or shifts in focus for your team that supercharged your business’ productivity and success and one you’ll keep in place for the future? 

Ensure you note the opportunity that hindsight and reflections afford you, rather than going back into what you have always done. Are there changes you made that surprised you and you’ll keep long after COVID-19 moves on? (which we can only hope will be soon!)


  • Be prepared for change – As a leader guiding your team through transition is a given in any operating environment and of course in situations like 2020 when a pandemic had an impact on basically every industry.
  • Understand your teams’ skills and capabilities – being clear about your team’s skills; capabilities and readiness for change will help you manage how you allow your team pivot.
  • Communicate – We go into more detail next but keep your team informed as you move into the period of change; an informed team is a more powerful team than an ill-informed team especially during a period of uncertainty.


Good communication as a leader is a required and inherent skill. Amid a crisis or a period of significant change, communication becomes even more critical. During a time of uncertainty, authenticity and honesty are vital; it’s ok not to have all the answers and show vulnerability. After all, we’re only human.

Did you change the style, frequency and channel of communication with your team during 2020? How did they respond to it? Seeking feedback from your team on how you connect; share and communicate with them will help guide what is best for your team – crisis or no crisis – it certainly shouldn’t be a one size fits all approach.

Learnings from your team’s feedback can help in the immediate and how motivated and connected your team feel well into the future.


  • Communicate regularly and in as detailed a fashion as is responsible. Sharing key information with your team will keep them informed and empowered – keeping information or only giving part of the story (understandably in some situations you can’t share everything) can lead to uncertainty. 
  • Ask for feedback – you are human and only know what you know – your team is often interacting directly with customers and listening to co-workers. 
  • The team’s feedback about how you and other leaders are communicating; what the broader team and even the customer community are feeling; thinking and saying will help empower your leadership.
  • Keep it authentic – authentic communication either with team members or customers creates an indelible connection and a sense of trust that is imperative.

Look after yourself and your team

During an uncertain time, we often tap into our fight or flight mentality. This can cause the level of stress to increase and cause undue pressure.


Mix this with remote working, which for some can blur the lines between work and life, and it’s a storm of unsustainable workloads that won’t easily dissipate.

A new survey, from FlexJobs and Mental Health America (MHA) published in July 2020 reported that 75% of US workers had experienced burnout, and 40% of those polled said it was a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Whilst this survey was specific to US professionals anecdotally across the globe, the rate of burnout or overwork is rampant. This calls for self-care to be high on the priority list, as the organisation needs you to be level headed and clear thinking, but it’s also essential for everyone in the business.

As a leader you need to communicate the value of self-care and lead from the front, or ‘walk the talk’. 

What was your approach to self-care in 2020? Did you maintain it or adjust your usual routine? Does your team know they have permission to do the same?

As you set out what this year will look like, make sure you invest in your own self-care and communicate it’s importance to your team. Switching off and taking time out will allow you and your team to reset; clear your minds and improve yours and your team’s effectiveness. 


  • Invest in your self-care – switch off; take time out; clear your mind and show your team its importance.
  • Empower your team to schedule time out.
  • Regularly check in with your team to ensure they are taking time out.

Recognition in a time of crisis

Sometimes we get so focused on the ‘next thing’ or ‘next opportunity’ that we forget to acknowledge achievements, however big or small. 

Whether your staff were able to secure new business or kept customers on board while processes changed, or kept the team engaged in a year like the past one, each task is vital to keeping a business operating. Recognition after a year that has been turbulent in so many industries is integral. 

 A 2016 study by Gallup showed only one in three staff strongly agreed they were recognised for doing good work. Does your organisation have a healthier recognition culture? Was your team given credit for the work done to get to the end of a unique year?

The data also revealed employees recalled the most memorable recognition they had received was from their direct manager at 28%, followed by a high-level leader or CEO at 24%. A simple acknowledgement goes a long way.

So, take the time to recognise your team and the work they do every day as well as the big wins. 


  • Review how you recognise your team – put some formal processes in place to regularly recognise them – monthly/quarterly recognition.
  • Never underestimate the power of a thank you or even a non-formal/non-scheduled email calling out great work.
  • It’s important to not only recognise work that achieves goals – revenue or otherwise; but also, to recognise team who live your corporate values; who are good humans in the way they do their work.

For You

Congratulations on leading your team through a year of uncertainty that few have experienced before. Let 2021 be a year of growth and prosperity out of the learnings of 2020. And let the word unprecedented fade out of day-to-day language. 

References: utm_source=cj&utm_medium=Siteplug&utm_campaign=affiliates&cjevent=8bf3b6fa4e2a11eb839008880a1c0e0c Forbes referenced the study.


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