Dierschow: Past year tested nearly everyone by fire

You don’t know how strong something is until it’s truly tested.

This last year has been a huge stress-test for every client I’ve worked with. It’s not just because the pandemic has altered the landscape of many industries. It’s also that restrictions have faced us with deep personal and business decisions.

Every week, and even every day.

It’s tempting to just hunker down and wait for this to all blow over. Many did that in the early days, because we were hoping that things would “get back to normal” after just a few weeks. Well, that didn’t happen.

I had to go back and question my personal values and business principles. I found a foundation of stability there, which has helped me to navigate the turbulent waters while remaining true to who I am and what my goals are.

But it has felt like every week is a new trial by fire.

I’ve found three enduring principles that have helped me to stay true and achieve my goals:

Flexibility: All my plans for 2020 were thrown out the window, because they relied on in-person meetings and services that got shut down. But other opportunities opened up, as customer needs shifted.

As a small company, I have the ability to move pretty quickly. Larger organizations will have more momentum built into them, which I’ve seen with some of my clients and partners. But even there, a courageous leader can often make a powerful difference when they’re looking for how to achieve the deeper goals in a changed environment.

And do that over and over again as things continue to shift.

Patience: We’re all just doing the best we can with what we see and the tools we have available. When things change unpredictably and rapidly, there will be missteps and mistakes. Lots of them.

As a result, I need to practice patience and even forgiveness. It’s not about being “right,” because often there’s no optimal answer or best decision. It’s about being thoughtful, intentional, and oriented toward action.

I’ll continue to be surprised and frustrated. I’ll make mistakes, but forward movement is what will drive results.

Optimism: It’s very easy to become disheartened when things are out of my control and I’m unable to stick to my plans. Despite this, I’ve realized that the thing I CAN control is my own attitude.

A sense of optimism serves me and the people I work with.

Sometimes this comes through as “we can figure this out.” It’s a belief that if we’re thoughtful, we can make good choices which help us move forward.

At other times, it’s a sense that “this too shall pass.” We don’t know when, or how, but I have confidence that we’ll get beyond the chaos we might be currently experiencing.

And then, it can be “there are some spots of good news.” I’m not ignoring the grim reality, but using optimism as a way to keep me from falling into despair. Because when hope is gone, everything else just falls apart.

I’ve stated these mostly in terms of managing my own attitude and progress. But these principles are even more important when leading others. You can imagine key leadership questions that will emerge:

Flexibility: What CAN we do with the resources and limitations we have? What’s a useful thing to do in this situation?

Patience: What should we be planning for as restrictions ease up? Are there other ways we could reach our deeper goals?

Optimism: What good news do we see in ourselves, our industry, and our country? What can we still rely on even though many things have changed?

We can emerge from these turbulent times as stronger teams, more focused and ready to take on new challenges. But it takes leadership.

Carl Dierschow is a Small Fish Business Coach based in Fort Collins, specializing in companies committed to improving society and the world. His website is www.smallfish.us