Life and Leadership Lessons From the Coronavirus Pandemic

There have been a lot of changes in the world in the last 6 months. I don’t think too many of us had a global pandemic on our list of predictions for 2020. I have been spending a lot of time getting quiet, tuning-in and paying attention to the lessons this crisis is here to teach me/us. Since I’m insatiably curious I’ve also been asking everyone around me what they’ve been learning about themselves and their workplaces during Covid-19.

I’ll start off by sharing some of my compelling lessons and then introduce you to some amazing leaders across North America who have graciously contributed their biggest takeaways. This is an opportunity for you to also step back and take some time to reflect and ask yourself what you are learning about yourself through this pandemic. This is your reset. What are you going to do differently?

Life doesn’t need to be complicated

When everything shuts-down and you are quarantined at home you quickly realize what’s most important to you. It’s not about all of “the stuff”, it’s about being surrounded by the people you love. One of the beautiful gifts of the pandemic for our family has been tons of quality time together. We have gone on family walks every night, read more stories, played more games, listened more deeply to one another and slowed down. The other morning I was walking the dog with my 10 year old daughter and paused and gave her an enormous hug. I felt so grateful for all of this extra time we were getting together. For me, that’s priceless.

Giving yourself permission

As an entrepreneur, I’ve been working full time in my business while homeschooling and entertaining our 7 and 10 year old kids. I’m not going to lie, that’s not always easy. I’ve learned quickly that I need to give myself permission to do the best I can in the current situation. There is no room for perfection and I make sure my self-talk is kind and self-compassionate. I check in with myself regularly to pay attention to what I need. That may result in me having a nap in the middle of the day, letting the kids watch a movie, telling someone I need to reschedule a meeting or asking the grandparents to take the kids for an overnight!

Leadership is about who you’re BEING

It has been interesting to see how people have shown up in the last 6 months. There have been those who stepped up quickly and looked for ways to serve, showed compassion, empathy and kindness. Then there are those who would rather blame, complain, point fingers and stay in negativity. This is a time where conscious leadership is needed more than ever. You cannot control how other people are going to behave but you’re always in charge of how you show up.

Staying in the present moment

In my coaching practice I do a lot of work with clients around mindfulness and emotional intelligence. The tools I teach them are the tools I use for myself as well. In a time of uncertainty like we are facing right now, staying in the present moment is critical. I’m reminded of this quote from Eckhart Tolle: All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry – all forms of fear – are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence. Joy and peace are found when we stay here in the now.

Work is not a one-size-fits-all

Although work has never been a one-sized-fits-all proposition, we’ve often treated it as such, providing the same conditions and requirements for all employees.  The pandemic has forced organizations to be creative and, as businesses start to re-open or establish a new “normalcy,” they should keep that creativity in mind.  Does everyone have to come into the office?  Must everyone work at home? What if they have children who are homeschooled, or elderly parents who need support?  What about employees who feel isolated? Or those who feel crowded at home?  Progressive organizations will be able to think of “workforce of one” solutions that work for the employee while fostering growth for the business.  We can’t rely on what we’ve always done.

Angela Champ
Human Resources Executive, Author & Speaker

The power of empathy

My biggest leadership lesson from this pandemic reinforced to me how important empathy is in our organizations. At a time where arguably every personal wellness angle is possibly impacting our staff all at once (mental, physical, financial, social), it really reinforced to me how important it is to try and empathize and understand what employees are going through to build a better experience for them.  Understanding that business outcomes such as customer satisfaction and profitability are outputs and the inputs that influence them are our employee behaviours, ensuring employees have an experience where they can individually thrive is paramount.

Rob Catalano
Chief Engagement Officer at WorkTango

Self-Care needs to be a priority

My biggest life/leadership lesson that I have learned from the pandemic is that self-care must be our number one priority. It’s okay to focus on yourself first because when you do, you are saying it’s okay for others to do the same. Focusing on our mental health and well-being builds our resilience to live our best lives and our courage to create a more inclusive and loving world where every human being feels they matter and belong.

Lorie Corcuera
Co-Founder and Chief Culture Officer, SPARK Creations

Expressing your vulnerability

We’ve had to overcome many obstacles throughout this pandemic while simultaneously confronting the social unrest in the United States.  There are many ingredients with being an effective leader, but one of the most important is empathy.  Empathy includes being compassionate, understanding, and listening, while sharing your vulnerabilities.  Expressing our vulnerabilities is an important humanistic connection that expresses our story and embraces authenticity.  Empathy is a key ingredient to being a successful leader. 

Anthony Paradiso
President & Founder, AllThingzAP

Open Communication and Transparency

In a time of great change, leaders either rise or fall. I have found that open communication about scenarios and options foster confidence in the rest of the team. 2020 has reminded me that I can be transparent about what I know and what I don’t know without losing a step in leading a team through it.

John Baldino
President, Humareso

The importance of downtime and flexibility

My biggest life lesson from the pandemic so far has been to slow down. Prior to COVID, I was in a rush and on the go all the time between my job and my family. COVID has taught us that it is ok to hibernate and have downtime for a season. It has taught me that I need to build in more time for rest in my life.

My biggest leadership lesson from the pandemic so far has been to be flexible. Prior to COVID, if you’d asked me if an employee could work from home while their kids were there doing a version of homeschooling, I would’ve said you were nuts – and I am in HR!! I was too committed to traditional ideas of work and home separation; we were all too committed to this. COVID has taught us that our life all blends together and it can be messy at times – but both work and home can survive and thrive when leaders are committed to being creative and flexible with their workforce.

Sarah Morgan
Chief Excellence Officer, BuzzARooney LLC

Walking the talk

Quite frankly, I think we all know the basics of good leadership and management. I’m not sure the pandemic taught us anything. However, I do think it has shed light on the fact that many leaders didn’t do a great job at preparing their jurisdictions or organizations for a global crisis. In addition, it’s also become abundantly clear that many leaders and managers weren’t prepared to actually lead and manage people effectively through tough situations when we all need leadership the most. That said, we have seen some leaders step up to the plate, realize times are tough right now and require change, and step up to the plate for their employees and constituents. Learning who walks the walk and who frivolously talks the talk will be something we all remember for a very long time.

Micole Garatti
Marketing Manager at Talview

Bring your whole self to work

The biggest lesson I’ve learned during the pandemic is that it’s healthy to be emotional at work. We’ve always told people to bring their whole selves to work, and now it’s happening. When people feel safe to express themselves, they let their guards down and you can truly interact with them. It’s been great to have a good cry, shout frustration and express joy with my Team Members !!

Steve Browne
VP of Human Resources, LaRosa’s, Inc.

Uncertainty, Overwhelm and Mental-Health

The biggest leadership and life lesson that I have learned from this pandemic is that we are all dealing with 3 things and we are all managing it in our own unique ways. The first is Uncertainty about what is happening next week, next month, next year and how industries will evolve. The second is Overwhelm with all the voluminous information of how to cope with business, health, parenting and much more, along with the disinformation, and finally the tasks of fitting it all in. The third piece is our mental health and well-being, which is being tested with our uncertainty and overwhelm. That’s why it is critical for us to continue to connect, engage each other, build community and support for one another. This is true for teams, organizations and even industry leaders together. So have the courage to ask for help, reach out and you will find the support there for you.

Bobby Umar
CEO of DYPB & President of Raeallan – Transformational Training and Speaking

Psychological Safety and Space

 I would say that my biggest life or leadership lesson from the pandemic has been the need that people have for space.  Everyone has responded differently to this, and every person has been impacted in a different way, and we need to create psychological safety and space for those to navigate through what that means to them.  Not everyone wants to spend 12 hours a day on a Zoom call.  Not everyone wants to be totally isolated from everything.  We need to make it okay to have different needs and provide as much support as possible — even if it’s just checking in to let someone know you see them and you’re thinking about them.

Nicole Roberts
Vice President of People and Culture, MVAH Partners LLC

Values in Action

I think it is less about what the pandemic has taught me and more about what it has brought into focus.  Crisis–especially sustained crisis–is an incredible amplifier of gaps in leadership, process, and the impact on resiliency.  Your cushion to fall back on from a questionable leadership decision has disappeared. If you are true to your values, and they align with your organization, you can move mountains with limited information.  If your values have been nothing more than a corporate postcard, or they are in conflict, your leadership will be in crisis. The magnifying power of the pandemic has also given me a greater appreciation for the need for solitude, gratitude, and reflection in effective leadership practice.

Rob Caswell
Manager, Employee and Labour Relations, Carewest Innovative Health Care

I’d love to hear from you! What have been your biggest lessons?

Kristen Harcourt is a Certified Executive Coach, Facilitator and Professional Speaker who helps executives and emerging leaders achieve extraordinary and sustainable results through increased self-awareness, emotional intelligence and mindfulness. She’s on a mission to help leaders transform from the inside out, creating a meaningful career and purpose-driven life where they reach their full potential. To discuss a customized coaching program for your company, individual coaching or speaking/training opportunities email:

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