Looking back, leaping forward. BetterUp Coaches offer 4 good things from 2020 that aren’t going away

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[ Periodically we feature topics “ripped from the headlines” and insights and wisdom direct from our amazing, generous coaches.] 

Call it cliche, but 2020 was unprecedented. For many of us, we’ve assigned this strange time to our calendar year, as if viruses, politics, justice, or the economy follow a calendar year. The calendar gives us a way to contain it, to put it in perspective. 

The calendar flip gives us hope.

As 2020 slouches toward its end, the new year 2021 shines like a beacon on the near horizon -- a focal point for our optimism.

One thing we know from coaching is how valuable it is to reflect. Especially, when a meeting or a project -- or a year -- hasn’t gone as planned, we learn and grow through deliberate reflection. 

Sometimes we don’t want to reflect -- we’ve learned to move on, let go, focus on the goals ahead. But also, sometimes we really just don’t want to spend any more time examining moments that have been difficult, painful, and that sometimes don’t reflect well on us or who we aspire to be. But the clearest path forward requires looking backward. 

We asked a panel of coaches to reflect on what they and their members learned this year, offer some practical tips to guide our own reflections, and choose what they’ll take from 2020 as they leap forward.

Coaches Ignacio Fernandez, Laurenne Di Salvo, Yashi Srivastavai, Juan Carlos Camacho Ruiz, and Fabian Orue joined us for this discussion. 

What have we learned from this year?  

BetterUp Coaches create an objective, safe space for employees to pause and consider different ways of understanding and interpreting their own experiences. They help members be vulnerable and honest, enabling deep personal insights that allow for personal and professional growth. Coaches are finding that leaders and employees alike are looking for support in processing and finding meaning from their experiences over the past months. 

We don’t know what’s possible until we try. 

  • Coach Yashi: Some organizations didn’t believe remote work could work for them, before the pandemic made it necessary. While the transition hasn’t been smooth, most were able to successfully adapt to a completely different way of operating.
  • Coach Laurenne: This hasn’t been comfortable, but knowing we have adapted quickly and done things we would have said weren’t possible allows us to look forward with hope, possibility and creativity. Remembering this can help us frame ambiguity and change in a more positive light, and keep us open to possibility and new approaches.

We can get better at living with uncertainty and trauma. 

  • Coach Juan Carlos: It is hard to think that only a health threat could make us realize that we all share the quality and vulnerability of being human. In fear and uncertainty, values became the only pillars to stay afloat: extreme care, optimism, and a new facet of resilience. We are getting used to living within the trauma, with the best possible attitude, because no one knows when it will end.
  • Coach Yashi: This year shattered illusions of how much control we have over our lives. We’ve had to learn to live with uncertainty and challenging emotions. We’ve had to learn patience. We’ve had to tap into our creativity, and many of us have found ways to make the best of our circumstances.

Some boundaries can blur, others need to be firmed up. 

  • Coach Laurenne: We’ve allowed others to see ‘behind the virtual curtain’ into our lives more than in the past. This has allowed for some really lovely moments, some giggles, opportunities to meet kids and pets, and it’s allowed for increased authenticity. On the flip side, as some are working longer hours, we’ve learned some boundaries need to be consciously strengthened to support wellbeing. 

For leaders and managers, these learnings occur in their organizations, their teams, and their own lives. That creates a rare level of empathy and camaraderie. But they may also find it hard to reconcile with the immediate demands of performance and a healthy, productive work environment.

Four coach-approved actions to “look backward, leap forward” productively

Even those who are objectively doing okay are eager to make sense and make change, on scales large and small. We’ve had an opportunity to view our lives through a new lens and consider the value and limits of each piece. Many don’t want to go back to their old normal.  

Our panel of BetterUp Coaches share the coaching strategies they have been using to help members reflect, cope, and adjust.

  • Acknowledge and accept. Drawing learning from the past several months requires giving space to process and examine what the year has been.

    Tip from Coach Fabian: Members first have to become aware, to acknowledge and even vent their emotions. I invite them to think about the past few weeks or months: What emotions can you identify? How did they support or hinder your desired action/direction? What was good? What would you like to avoid in the future? What might you have done differently? The following questions help draw out learnings: In thinking about your experience, what were the costs to you? What were the benefits? What have you learned out of this experience that you wouldn’t have otherwise? 

  • Anchor on what worked well for you.

    Tip from Coach Yashi: In reflecting back on 2020, I find it important to ask: What are some desirable changes you’ve seen in your life during the pandemic? What have you learned about yourself? When all of this ends, what would you like your new normal to look like? And how can you play an intentional, active role in bringing it about?

  • Practice self-compassion.

    Tip from Coach Ignacio: I work with high achievers, working mums, and dads, responsible people who strive to do things right and excel in all walks of life. They put high pressure and demands on themselves and are very harsh on themselves. A bit of Self-Compassion could help them individually and also make them better leaders. Following Dr. Kristen Neff on this subject, self-compassion is built around mindfulness, self-care/self-kindness, and recognizing common humanity. 

  • Let go, welcome the future:

    Tip from Coach Fabian: Looking to the future, and in relation with what you control,  how do these learnings support your direction? How can you leverage them? How have your recent experience/s re-shaped your immediate future? What opportunities appear that weren’t there for you before? 

What will we take with us into 2021?

These trends are here to stay and will carry us forward:

  1. Coach Laurenn: Leaders as coaches. Reduced visibility into what people are doing day to day caused some leaders to adjust their styles. They are more trusting of team members to show up and step up. They are increasing empowerment of their teams. In a year when no one person could have all the answers, the approach of ‘ask vs. tell’ has been and will remain critical.
  2. Coach Juan Carlos: No geographical limitations to connection. We value our time and question the need to invest time in travel to have dialogues, do business, or learn. That creates a new challenge: prioritizing activities and maintaining productivity without causing chaos in personal life. People travel meters instead of hours to attend a meeting, but it creates the temptation to always be available.
  3. Coach Laurenne: Importance of connection. Our relationships are critical and feeling connected to our friends and families, our teams, and to our purpose and the purpose of our organizations has helped many navigate a challenging year.
  4. Coach Yashi: Deeper perspective on what matters. Many members have gotten in touch with their deeper values. They’ve learned things like:
    • I deeply value working closely with my team
    • Staying close to family is more important to me than earning more money
    • Balance makes me happier than professional accomplishments
    • I had no idea of my privilege. There is so much I need to learn to be an effective leader
    • I enjoy learning so much! I want to make more of an effort to learn about different things on an ongoing basis.

Lessons like these can take time to come by, but once they do, they are difficult to forget. Members reflecting and having such revelations are likely to carry them forward.