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What 2020 taught me about leadership

The final months of the year bring an opportunity for reflection on our businesses and ourselves. This year has been exceptional—and is maybe painful to look back on. The world has shifted in ways that no one could have imagined back in January. And for many of us, that shift presented a moment of reckoning: One that caused us to really look at our businesses and ourselves as leaders, and to question what we needed to do to persevere.

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Maybe you’ve fared well through the instability. Many business owners have—making critical pivots to adjust their business in order to meet the moment. Others, unfortunately, have not. But one thing’s for sure—whatever the last eight months have looked like for your business, you’ve seen the cracks in your company and you’ve had to adapt to some change in your 2020 plan. 

For my part, I admit that it’s been a challenge to lead our people at EMyth. I had some hard days where I woke up and thought, “I can’t face what I have to do today.” I wanted to stay in bed—and I’d never felt that way before. But the fact was, I had to face it—I couldn’t not do the hard things, because it’s what our company, clients and team needed to keep going. 

This reminded  me of a powerful (and uncomfortable) lesson in leadership: Growth as a leader happens in those moments when things don’t go your way, and when you need to show up for your people even though you don’t even know where you’ll find the energy to do it. But you do it anyway. 

What held me up through all this change was our EMyth Team. During the scariest moments of the pandemic, our people and the culture we’ve built became so important. When 30% of our business vanished within a month, our values helped us stay calm and focused. Times like these reveal whether your values are alive in your people, or simply words on a page. 

We have nine powerful company values, but as the leader this year, I leaned most on:

Gift love and compassion, even when it’s hard.
Create better, together.
Keep growing.

These ideals served as beacons in the darkest moments of this year, reminding me of our shared purpose and highest hopes for ourselves. They reminded me that showing up at your best doesn’t mean being perfect, but rather being willing to grow—to trust and be vulnerable. 

It’s not always easy to let go and trust your people. But if you’ve hired for shared values first, it gets easier. 

If you’re like me, you tend to keep things to yourself until you have the answers–especially when you’re not sure about what to do. That way (the thinking goes) your people will feel confident and secure in your direction. This year forced me to take a different approach. Because no one—including myself—knew exactly what to expect, I needed to be open and honest about my uncertainties and fears, and draw upon the intuition and creativity of my team. I needed to strike the right balance in how much to share, and to set the right tone. I needed to learn to communicate better. As a result, our people stepped up and grew closer. Everybody rolled up their sleeves to pivot, time and time again. Together we cut expenses and launched a new product to serve even more business owners.

As 2020 draws to a close and I lead our Management Team to create our 2021 annual plan, I can clearly see the indelible lessons of this year. We’ve discovered the depths of our strengths and weaknesses, and now, we can set goals that are reflective of those. We’ve learned the advantage of being nimble and responsive—for now, we’re only going to plan out two quarters instead of all four at once. But most importantly, we’ve learned how to build an even stronger and more resilient team. Our new confidence reminds me of a powerful saying that we quote often at EMyth: 

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. 

I have a deeper understanding of and appreciation for these words now.

In this season (and week) of reflection and gratitude, remember that even the hard lessons—the ones that push you to discover what you’re capable of achieving when things go sideways—are something to be grateful for. 

So I wonder, what have you learned about yourself as a leader through the process of navigating your company through this time? And what are you going to do with that new knowledge as you work to reshape and replan for 2021?

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Tricia Huebner

Written by Tricia Huebner

Tricia Huebner is EMyth's VP of Coaching Emeritus. As one of the leading experts in all facets of the EMyth Approach, her 20 years of experience at EMyth included leadership roles in program development, coaching, coach training and marketing. Tricia’s commitment to helping business owners came from her own upbringing in a family of small business owners. In her time as a speaker and trainer, she addressed business audiences throughout the U.S., and internationally in Canada, Europe and Africa. Throughout her career, Tricia designed programs for the Small Business Administration and consulted with Fortune 1000 companies, and personally coached more than 200 small and mid-sized businesses, helping owners create businesses they love leading and lives they love living. She retired from EMyth in 2022 to pursue her own business within the wine industry.