Alumni Perspectives: Leadership Challenges and Lessons 2020

by Michael Joyce published Dec 13, 2019 12:20 PM, last modified Dec 14, 2020 01:33 PM
by Paul Obidinski, J.D.

It is safe to say that 2020 has been a year like no other.  The COVID-19 Pandemic coupled with several social justice, political, and economic issues created challenges not previously imagined.  However, with challenges, there are lessons learned and opportunities for future success.  Recently, we asked several of our MPS PSYLD alumni some questions about the challenges and lessons of 2020.  Here are some of our alumni perspectives:

2020 has been a challenging year for just about everyone with the COVID-19 pandemic and multiple other events.  What has been the greatest challenge you have faced this year and how have you responded to it?

Joy MoxonJoy Moxon, Class of 2019

      

 

“The greatest challenge I faced this year was dealing with the daily uncertainty the pandemic brought to my work life as well as my personal life. I’m a planner by nature, and I take pride in being prepared. But no one was prepared for COVID-19. By the time we knew what hit us, the store shelves were emptied of hand sanitizer and toilet paper, and states were going on lockdown. So much for control.  Those first few weeks of the pandemic were rough, as I dealt with anxiety about my family’s health, education, and finances. At the same time, I had to figure out how to be productive working from home and put on a brave, professional face for my team and internal clients. Despite the temporary closure of many of our facilities, my department was busier than ever, working to stay apprised of rapidly changing government orders and guidelines. Helping my company navigate through this ‘new normal’ gave me purpose, and things gradually fell back into balance. I found that reframing the situation and focusing on the needs of others — our employees and our customers - helped to reduce my anxiety about the unknown.”

 

Russell FitzpatrickRussell Fitzpatrick, Class of 2017

      

 

“One of the greatest challenges I experienced this year was the transition to remote work. Leadership influence often happens in the space between work activities  or ‘the space between a vision and implementing that vision.’  A lot of those ‘in-between’ times happen at the cliché water cooler, at shared lunches, at the coffee shop, during business trips, etc. – which are all gone during remote working.  At the beginning of the quarantine, I noticed that a lot of virtual meetings immediately started by jumping into the topic at hand, skipping much of the informality that can create the foundation for leadership influence.  So, while ‘small talk’ was often frowned upon in the day-to-day work environment, now, in the remote setting, the value of small talk has taken on new meaning for leadership.  Luckily, we noticed this change, and are working towards bringing this idea of small talk into virtual meetings.”

 

Amanda CupidoAmanda Cupido, Class of 2019

      

 

“During this pandemic I dealt with challenges that are probably not dissimilar to other people.  I had to prioritize staying in and working in different ways to keep both my physical and mental wellness in check. There were lots of zoom dates, virtual yoga sessions and online shopping.  But one thing that I did mid-pandemic which was different than the average person was that I started a business.  I had been producing podcasting as a ‘side hustle’ for many years but during the lockdown, I saw a surge in appetite for podcasts. This was because podcasts could still be produced completely remotely with little sacrifice to quality/approach. I already had equipment that allowed me to record interviews remotely and so I was off! I’ve now incorporated a business and am in the midst of producing eight different shows! I think starting a business is always a bit scary but it’s exciting and I didn’t let the doom and gloom of the pandemic stop me from following my instinct in this area.”

 

Our world will likely be changed in many ways following the COVID-19 pandemic.  What lessons do you think will have been learned from the pandemic that will help current or aspiring leaders?

Rachel HoustonRachel Houston, Class of 2020

      

 

“I believe that the world will likely look very different post-COVID than it did pre-COVID.  I think there are several key lessons that can help current or aspiring leaders:

  • Connectedness – Even with a remote environment, connectedness with teammates is important.  In a typical work setting, even if you would not have met weekly with your direct reports, in this new situation, a weekly meeting can improve employee morale, engagement and connectedness.
  • Flexibility – Flexibility is truly the only way to effectively navigate these unprecedented times.  We must also understand that our direct reports are likely being pulled in many directions between their personal and professional lives.
  • Communication – Open, transparent, effective communication is necessary across all levels of the organization. 
  • Service – Leaders need to meet the needs of their organizations, communities, and teammates. 
  • Resilience – Resiliency stretches us to our fullest potential.  It also helps those around us find their inner strength as well.” 

 

Rob Redziniak

Rob Redziniak, Class of 2019

 

      

 

“If I were to look back 10 years from now on how I handled myself as a leader during the pandemic, I would reflect on my priorities during that timeframe. I, and many others, ensured our teammates and families’ health and safety were at the forefront of every decision while we operated cautiously to ensure the work got done to keep this country safe. It was stressful, and a lot of lessons were learned.  However, I believe that I, and many leaders, could hang our hats on our decisions.

For current and aspiring leaders, it is important to remember that there will always be a lot of things you wished you would have done better; hindsight is always 20/20.  However, what is even more important is to think about how you can make your folks feel during challenging times. Don’t overreact. Keep people calm.  Take care of yourself and your family.  Have the tough conversations to make sure issues are addressed but, treat everyone with respect.  Be a good listener. Ensuring you have your priorities right is a great first step in measuring your effectiveness as a leader and that always begins with a ‘people first’ mentality.” 

If you have any questions for our Alumni on their perspectives, please feel free to contact Paul Obidinski, Professor of Practice, at peo104@psu.edu and we will reach out to our alumni to have any follow-up questions addressed.