As a business leader, I have often viewed productivity hiccups and downtime as adversaries. I had my tried-and-true way of doing things and had the best approach to handling business — or so I thought. That was before I found myself at the helm of a global technology company during the pandemic of 2020 and a reckoning that tested my capabilities. In the end, those adversaries would become allies and enable huge change for me. After a lengthy bout of upheaval, I had a new perspective on life and work. Here are a few ways I’ve changed for the better in 2020:
I am more empathetic. The role of CEO, while always exciting and full of possibility, is a complex mix of decision-making and tending to the company’s performance. In the past, I often made choices or provided strict mandates on actions and follow-through. There were fewer gray areas, and my focus was primarily on the business outcome. In 2020, I worked much more closely and at a faster pace with my team leaders to create new business models for our clients. I also worked closely with our clients in many urgent planning sessions. I have often developed friendships with clients, but the pandemic enabled me to pause and see clients, colleagues, and partners in an entirely new light. Business decisions I made during the pandemic had new consequences and I saw how they impacted not just business outcomes but also livelihoods. I put my heart and soul into every decision and brainstorming process. While I’ve always been passionate about creating new business models and technology, I became far more vigilant about people at the core. It is a great responsibility for which I am profoundly grateful.
I treat my commitments with more care and dedication. I know more than ever that my decisions and actions matter. In this time of COVID, it’s easy to make short-term business progress with vague promises and ambiguous statements. But I know that every conversation, however long or short, is taken to heart. I am much more thoughtful with my words. I give specifics and make promises that I keep. I can drive business, enable innovation, and lead an organization much more effectively when I bring integrity into everything I do. I am more committed to mean what I say and say what I mean.
I trust others and let go of the reins. In the early days of the pandemic, I became more immersed than ever in strategizing “survive, revive and thrive” initiatives to keep our people safe and business operational. In meeting after meeting with various business units, I began to more fully appreciate the outstanding dedication, phenomenal attitudes, and enormous talents of our teams. I witnessed their leadership skills in action, in a technicolor-like way, and came to trust their expertise and judgment completely. I realized that I am not the right person for every single job. It’s humbling (and freeing) to recognize that I don’t possess every skill set in the universe. It’s also uplifting to know that others do — and that they are on my team! Today, instead of delegating, I designate. This is due to the absolute trust I have in others.
I have more courage to follow my truth. The massive amounts of information and news we received after the death of George Floyd affected me in a way I didn’t expect. It was no longer acceptable for me to remain silent and be okay with rights and wrongs disguised as differences of opinion. As a CEO, it is not enviable to have conversations on deeply divisive social issues. In the larger world, celebrities get criticized for speaking up, singers are told to “stop talking and sing,” and athletes are ostracized and belittled. But if we cannot live by our principles, what is our purpose? We each have a platform and a responsibility to fight injustice and create a better world for the next person. Yes, our own lives are easier when we don’t engage in the problems of the larger world but our inaction and apathy make others’ lives harder. This year has given me many gifts, the most profound being the courage to bring social integrity to my actions as CEO.
I have renewed priorities. In many ways, the world is more complicated than ever before, but in my personal life, it is now distilled down to what matters most. I have a wonderful family that is my touchstone through everything. On top of the pandemic, we had to evacuate our home this summer due to imminent danger from the California wildfires. Then COVID struck inside our home and we waited it out for weeks. Our family, always close-knit, became airtight because of what we had been through. Although we are at a distance due to the pandemic, I feel the close kinship of our amazing friends and colleagues through meaningful phone and video calls when any of us need to connect. Almost daily, I witness the sunrise and am awestruck as it unfolds. I get to create, build, innovate, introspect, re-imagine, advocate, and contribute to the world. Life feels pared down to the basics, yet more abundant than ever.
Without a doubt, this year has changed me as a person. And I am also changed as a business leader. Even when things are extremely difficult, I enthusiastically step up. I wholeheartedly fight the good fight and walk away from the ones that are shallow. I am willing to be wrong and willing to be right even when it makes things more difficult for me. It’s hard to believe the world has been distanced for almost a year. As for me, the downtime has forced me to grow. And I’m glad.
Wishing you happy holidays, a reinvigorated sense of purpose, and many, many blessings.