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Leadership lessons from the year that was

17 December 2021 at 8:58 am
Maggie Coggan
The past year has been a rollercoaster to say the least, but are there any lessons that can be carried into the new year? We take a look. 

Maggie Coggan | 17 December 2021 at 8:58 am


Leadership lessons from the year that was
17 December 2021 at 8:58 am

The past year has been a rollercoaster to say the least, but are there any lessons that can be carried into the new year? We take a look. 

While we all carried a small amount of hope that 2021 would be an improvement on the chaos of 2020, unfortunately the past year was, in many ways, more disruptive and irritating. 

Much of Australia was plunged in and out of lockdown, significantly impacting the way we work and live our lives. 

For leaders, it marked a second year of near-constant disruption, adapting to unprecedented circumstances, and supporting their teams, as well as trying to look after their own well-being.    

But out of any hardship, there are always lessons that can be carried forward, particularly when it comes to leading during a crisis. It’s why we sat down with Beth Weatherly, the CEO of Kilfinan Australia, to hear what she learnt, and why it’s important to take the time to reflect. 

This has been a challenging year for our leaders, but what are some of the main lessons learnt that can be carried over to next year?

It’s funny because in many ways, 2021 was just really 2020 part two. So I feel like all the lessons learned by leaders last year around agility and resilience were all really reinforced this year. I’ve approached situations with the understanding that I don’t have all the answers, and that I need to put flexible, creative thinking at the fore. I also found the need to ask more questions, and that I needed to listen more than I spoke.

The other element that came to me was around really putting emotional intelligence, empathy and wellbeing at the centre of my decision making. In challenging times like this, where everybody’s really at the end of their tether, support systems and mutual care are really critical for yourself, for your staff and your community. And I think as a leader, you really need to role model that.

There’s also been a real dichotomy between change and monotony. In our work lives, we’ve been running at this breakneck pace and experiencing near constant uncertainty and disruption. At the same time, every day in lockdown is Groundhog Day. So it takes some serious mental gymnastics to reconcile those two realities. And especially when you think about that juxtaposition as being sustained over two years, it really puts some perspective around why 2021 has been much tougher in many ways than 2020. It’s really about managing expectations, practicing that trust, and focusing on support systems.

Why is it important that leaders take the time to reflect on the year that was?

Reflection is just an integral part of good leadership at any time, but especially this year. I think if we look back on the year, we realise how much has been accomplished, even though it felt like we were running in place for the whole year. It’s impossible to predict what 2022 is going to look like. Are we going to go back into a lockdown or are we going to be able to get back to a more normal working situation? All that we can do to prepare for that is to take time to internalise those lessons and prepare ourselves based on what we’ve learned so far.

And how does taking the time to reflect positively impact the team that you’re leading?

This year has been all about transparent leadership. I want my team to understand the “why” always and really embed that sense of purpose in everything we do. Being really open about the fact that we don’t have all the answers and that we’re dealing with unprecedented situations has really helped to build a culture of trust and accountability through a time when individuals have been feeling isolated, and teams have been fractured. I think that as leaders, we have a responsibility to develop our people and to invest in our future leaders. My behaviour and what I’m doing is reflective of the whole organisation, so taking that time to reflect is incredibly important.


Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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