Your Plan for 2020 and Other Delusions

March 12, 2021

by Joseph Michelli

Let me guess, on December 31, 2019; you envisioned a year where the world would experience widespread deaths from a virus roughly 1/1000 the width of a human hair. You anticipated a crippling lockdown, toilet paper shortages, and expected to repeatedly hear or say words like “you’re on mute,” “unprecedented,” or “new normal.”

Of course, you didn’t! You had a fabulous plan for 2020. However, consistent with a quote from former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” For most of us, that mouth punch was the ultimate test of our personal and leadership resilience.

Coming into the year, I planned to write a book about my client, GODIVA Chocolate. Armed with a McGraw-Hill book contract, my plans to travel to GODIVA’s manufacturing plant were scrapped out of “an abundance of caution.” With the GODIVA book research paused and most of my energy going to roles on COVID-19 taskforces for other clients, I decided to reach out to leaders in my network and ask how they were managing through the pandemic. After a few of those calls, I realized leaders wanted to talk and needed someone to listen. Their insights also inspired me.

Within weeks, I pitched and had the concept for Stronger Through Adversity accepted by the publication board at McGraw-Hill. I engaged in over 140 conversations with remarkable business, nonprofit, and public safety leaders in the next few months. CEOs and Presidents of companies like Target, Verizon, Kohl’s, Microsoft, Farmers Insurance, Dairy Queen, Mercedes-Benz, Zappos, United Way, Salvation Army, and so many more kindly took time to talk about the lessons they were learning or affirming during the pandemic. I captured these conversations in my new book Stronger Through Adversity.

As you reflect on the way you adapted when your plans went awry this year, here are three questions to consider based on insights shared in Stronger Through Adversity:

  1. Will your team members and family say, “you put your mask on first” and encouraged them to do the same? The leaders I spoke with had to consciously lead themselves first to steward their families and organizations effectively. Self-care became paramount. As the airline safety briefing indicates, leaders had to put their oxygen masks on first to lead those around them. Acts of self-care (as difficult as they were to muster) helped the leader and modeled the importance of self-care for others they served.
  2. Did you admit what you didn’t know and acknowledge your shortcomings? In a time when so much is unknown or unknowable, leaders found power in saying, “I don’t know, how might we find that information?” and “I made a mistake, how can we learn from that?” Jeff Dailey, CEO of Farmers Insurance, shared a misguided decision with his entire organization and saw a spike in team member engagement. Employees aren’t looking for leaders who maintain a pretense of perfection. They want truth, authenticity, and leaders with humility.
  3. Was your messaging too infrequent, well-aligned, or cluttered? While most leaders increased communication frequency, it was possible to overcommunicate and create clutter. Linda Rutherford, SVP and Chief of Communication at Southwest Airlines put it this way, “In times of crisis, people get anxious and crave information. So not only do we need to communicate more often, we had to communicate in a multi-channel way and be inclusive. At Southwest, that means engaging a variety of voices starting with our CEO.” Linda added, “If you aren’t organized, you can easily create confusion and distrust through your messaging. That distrust can escalate quickly, given how fast information changes. All communications must be aligned. Marketing, operations, and communication teams need to stay in sync as they coordinate messages to their respective groups – customers, the media, and employees. That aligned messaging is something we work on 24 hours a day. Collaboratively, we are looking at each new communication to make sure it is purposeful, well-timed, congruent, and relevant for the audience to which it is directed.”

What resilience lessons will you take away from 2020? Where are your strengths and opportunities for 2021? Most importantly, how have you weathered the pandemic, and are you positioned to be Stronger Through Adversity?


Joseph Michelli

Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D., C.S.P., is an internationally sought-after speaker, author, and organizational consultant who transfers his knowledge of exceptional business practices in ways that develop joyful and productive workplaces with a focus on customer experience. His insights encourage leaders and frontline workers to grow and invest passionately in all aspects of their lives.