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My father was a retired cop and had moved on to cleaning plane interiors for American Airlines. In the middle of the party, he asked: “Where’s your security?” He didn’t mean bouncers or guards. Nor was he asking about financial security from angel investors. (Although Mom was one, and never told him!) He meant: “How will you be able to afford a home, or retire? Where’s your long-term security?”
“Here, Dad,” I replied, pointing repeatedly to my chest. “Here.”
Every entrepreneur has a similar story: Belief in ourselves — our visions, our drives, and our passions is what keeps us going during the toughest situations.
But few of us have experienced anything like the dumpster fire known as Covid-19, 2020. By mid-year, more than 100,000 small businesses were forever shuttered. And that trend only grew as the next wave of the pandemic hit. Many firms that received PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans eventually filed for bankruptcy.
2020 has been tough on all of us! Believing in ourselves is no longer enough. We need more. We need family, teammates, and community support. We need government support. And we need more openness about our hardships.
Owning our hardship truths, recognizing personal growth
In coaching senior executives across the globe who face transformational decisions, I’ve found that the most important pre-work is introspection — understanding the personal challenges interwoven within business challenges. That’s especially true for us entrepreneurs.
No entrepreneur likes admitting failure. We’re eternal optimists. Our DNA is to always believe in our personal ability to adapt, overcome, and succeed.
And precious few entrepreneurs create the time to process personal growth in-the-moment. We’re too busy trying to create a 25th hour in the day so we can get more done!
But process, we must. With insight, our hardships become our renewed source of strength and perseverance. Introspection jumpstarts successful pandemic leadership.
In the past year I’ve asked hundreds of executives one question, based on their 2020 COVID-19 experiences: What’s the biggest thing you learned about YOU in the past few months?
Across the globe and across many industries, two universal lessons-learned have emerged:
Family matters most
Forced to work from home, many of us have reconnected with the most primal of needs — family. Entrepreneurs often forget this. Our business creation and its success sometimes supersedes all else. (I was one of those guilty of this. Sixteen years ago, one of the contributing factors to my divorce was an obsessive focus on my business.)
“Wow! I hadn’t realized how resilient I am!”
During crises, adapting every moment of every day becomes almost routine. Because your focus has been on gazillions of external pandemic forces — like new safety protocols, creating new revenue streams, and just keeping the business alive — few entrepreneurs appreciate how much personal transformation they just experienced.
Self-awareness and self-care are key to all leaders’ success. You can’t succeed in the marketplace if you’re not taking care of yourself and not fully aware of your strengths and weaknesses. But let’s put that aside for the moment.
Your teammates, your suppliers, and your customers are all thrashing about with you in that 2020 dumpster fire. They need your empathy, your support, your attention, your compassion, and they’d benefit from your story — hearing about your vulnerability, your challenges, your lessons learned, what you went through with them.
Your 2020 experiences — your story — are among your key leadership tools in helping others get through one of the most disruptive and challenging years they’ll ever experience.
And that leadership begins with understanding what you yourself just went through.