16 Female Leaders Share the Most Unexpected Lessons They’ve Learned During COVID

June 16, 2020
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The word “unprecedented” has been used a lot over the past few months, and rightfully so—living through a pandemic of this scale is not something that we’ve ever done before. There’s no manual for navigating COVID-19, and everyone has been forced to tackle this new reality day by day.

But being stripped of all routines that make us feel like we are in control has revealed some unexpected, and valuable, lessons. For these 16 female leaders, this time has forced them to challenge their business processes, personality traits they thought to be true, how they get work done at home, and more. However, they each adhere to a clear pattern—starting with discomfort or unfamiliarity, followed by acknowledging the friction, and ultimately, leading to an important lesson that will far surpass this temporary season.

Their stories demonstrate that it’s not necessarily the problems we face or even the lessons we learn that are most significant, but rather how we intentionally integrate them into our lives as we inevitably fall back into familiar routines.

An Unexpected Lesson COVID-19 Has Taught Me: “Four and a half weeks into quarantine, I realized that I’d worked every day, all day, since New York City went into lockdown. My brain and creativity were completely tapped, I was exhausted and ultimately had to admit that the only person holding myself to this insane schedule was me. I set new boundaries with myself and clients, brought on extra support, created fresh weekend routines, and revealed in the new space to think and restore. Happiness, creativity, and energy returned instantly.”

How I’ll Take This Lesson With Me Post-COVID-19: “I’ve experienced the stressful effects of over-extending myself for years, but have struggled to live at a slower pace while scaling a growing business. This forced slow-down gave me no choice. I have found grace in it and will be nurturing a new pace of life post-COVID.”

An Unexpected Lesson COVID-19 Has Taught Me: “I haven’t left my house for six weeks and don’t feel caged in at all. I’m really surprised by this as I’ve never been a “homebody”—preferring to step outside at least once a day during weekends.”

How I’ll Take This Lesson With Me Post-COVID-19: “I think I’ll spend a lot more time at home as I don’t have any desire to go anywhere. It’s also given me permission to make all the “coffee chats” and meetings I didn’t really want to have but did out of obligation into virtual meetings. That will be much more acceptable now and I’m so appreciative of this change as I can focus on what’s important to me in terms of work and personal.”

An Unexpected Lesson COVID-19 Has Taught Me: “I’ve realized how much strength I get from meaningful conversations with my friends and family. The video chats and phone calls are deeper because we aren’t focused on discussing or doing activities, but truly on talking about things that matter most—emotions, values, mental/physical well-being. What surprised me most about this learning is that it isn’t profound or novel, but that it was just forgotten because I was always moving a million miles a minute.”

How I’ll Take This Lesson With Me Post-COVID-19: “I’m going to continue the slower pace and focus on what serves me more fully—meaningful conversations.”

An Unexpected Lesson COVID-19 Has Taught Me: “Everyone who has ever met me would probably place me on the far end of the extreme extrovert spectrum, but it turns out, that might not be true after all. I’ve had very little human contact in weeks and I’m surprised to report, I don’t miss it. Could be I was just traveling too much and needed a break, but relative to other people I know, I seem to be really taking to this quarantine life!”

How I’ll Take This Lesson With Me Post-COVID-19: “I’ll take more time to be alone and be better at cultivating and honoring my need for alone time.”

An Unexpected Lesson COVID-19 Has Taught Me: “I am capable of slowing down. As someone who runs hard in all things, it’s been healthy for my family, my business and my well being to slow down. I used to think of slowing down as a weakness but now I see it as a chance to let my brain recharge and address challenges with a level of new found creativity and grace.”

How I’ll Take This Lesson With Me Post-COVID-19: “I’m enjoying quiet time to be more present for myself, which in turn is good for everyone around me. It’s a new part of me that I’m embracing and plan to take with me!”

An Unexpected Lesson COVID-19 Has Taught Me: “COVID-19 has shown me that I cannot control everything and I have to manage the anxiety that comes from my inability to control external factors.”

How I’ll Take This Lesson With Me Post-COVID-19: “I will take the importance of being more grounded and focus on managing my internal well-being. Surrendering doesn’t mean giving up — merely it’s managing how you internalize and manage dealing with the loss of ‘being in control.’”

An Unexpected Lesson COVID-19 Has Taught Me: “My 11-year-old daughter has severe ADHD. Most sixth graders can go and do their work on their own, but unfortunately for my daughter, she will stare at something that needs to get done and it overwhelms her. Every day we break apart everything that needs to get done into small chunks, one step at a time. COVID has been a gift to me. This precious time, seeing how she learns, understanding her struggles first hand and finding ways to help her manage has helped me to reevaluate my expectations, something I hadn’t done and couldn’t do.”

How I’ll Take This Lesson With Me Post-COVID-19: “I am embedding in my memory, exactly the kinds of actions she takes when trying to do her work—from not being able to retrieve information to forgetting what she was doing four seconds after starting something—all so I can remember exactly what she struggles with every single time she opens a book or looks at a math problem. My expectations will not be how she did on a test and instead, reviewing the work together to ensure she just understands how to solve a problem.”

An Unexpected Lesson COVID-19 Has Taught Me: “I’ve learned that quarantine conditions bring out massive surges of creativity for me, both personally and professionally. I used to think that creativity flourished with a lot of external stimulation, but it turns out the reduction in mobility and general noise freed up a fountain of ideas in my brain!”

How I’ll Take This Lesson With Me Post-COVID-19: “I’ll honor my ideal creative set-up by sequestering myself in cozy places and eliminating distractions.”

An Unexpected Lesson COVID-19 Has Taught Me: “I have weathered this experience with leadership and resilience, but in a way I didn’t expect. I am philosophical and curious and I have always been able to connect those traits to real life experiences and actions. I built my business to help people wanting to make positive change in uncertain and transitional times in their lives using the tools I’ve always used to navigate challenging times in my own life. Sometimes uncovering the key to helping others is by learning to see your own unique qualities that are easiest to take for granted.”

How I’ll Take This Lesson With Me Post-COVID-19: “I am much more committed to the values of my business, allowing the strategies to shift and evolve. I know that wisdom is in connection, not in information and I continue to embody that in my work with clients.”

An Unexpected Lesson COVID-19 Has Taught Me: “I have always thought that office space is one of the most important factors in building company culture. Also, I’ve always been a firm believer that people tend to be less productive while WFH. To my surprise, I’ve discovered that I and my teammates are very efficient as a fully remote team.”

How I’ll Take This Lesson With Me Post-COVID-19: “Our lease with WeWork is ending in May, and we decided not to extend it and to stay fully remote for the next few months. It’s cheaper, safer, and more productive in many ways. The situation forced me to be more creative as regards how I connect with my teammates so I came up with new ideas on how we can nurture our culture while working apart. Now we have regular weekly check-Ins, Office Vibe Surveys, edu-quizzes, and we even do pilates together via Hangouts once per week.”

An Unexpected Lesson COVID-19 Has Taught Me: “I’ve learned that all businesses need to offer community and all professionals need to feel connected to like-minded people. The Upside was about to launch a membership cycle when COVID hit, forcing us to completely halt any and all well-planned promotions. What surprised me was how little our business was affected by COVID and the subsequent cancelled marketing campaigns, proving that people prioritize community and connections above almost everything else.”

How I’ll Take This Lesson With Me Post-COVID-19: “I’m doubling down on programming that adds value and creates an even stronger community for our members.”

An Unexpected Lesson COVID-19 Has Taught Me: “During this time, I’ve learned how much I thrive in moments of change. Instead of focusing on potential losses, I am feeling stimulated by the prospect of opportunity and ways of offering myself and my business for the good of others. I’ve always been an adaptive and giving person, but I’m surprised by how quickly and intuitively pivots and success from pivots are taking place.”

How I’ll Take This Lesson With Me Post-COVID-19: “The pivots I refer to are not just shifts in marketing or communications but actual changes in business practice and focus. I will maintain and expand upon those post-COVID. I’ve learned how authentic and smart consumers are, and I want to meet them in this place with transparency, benevolence and heart.”

An Unexpected Lesson COVID-19 Has Taught Me: “Leadership isn’t a title or a vocation, it’s present (or absent) in every decision I make—at work and at home. With the distinction between those areas of my life blurred, I’m recognizing that leadership wins look different than they did just a few months ago. For example, considering how to do something vs just what needs to be done is particularly important at the moment. And giving my children what they need to thrive on a given day might not mean a robust home-school curriculum—it might mean screen-time and a snack. And that’s ok.”

How I’ll Take This Lesson With Me Post-COVID-19: “Mostly, this has been an exercise in patience, boundary-setting, and considering what matters most—personally and professionally. Those are evergreen.”

An Unexpected Lesson COVID-19 Has Taught Me: “As Vail Resorts closed and, with it, my winter snowboarding hobby that kept me busy, I thought because I was already 100% work-from-home for the better part of six years that I could #KeepItNormal. Each adjustment to daily life and news item brought with it a tiny prick, and as those pricks added up, I learned about sensory processing sensitivity. I always thought I was being careless and ignorant by avoiding the news or turning away from overly anxious people, but it turns out that I’m really a highly sensitive person, and it’s a trait that I need to consider before engaging with others.”

How I’ll Take This Lesson With Me Post-COVID-19: “If a highly sensitive person beats herself up because she’s being ‘too sensitive’ to daily life, then isn’t that an unending circle of negativity? The diagnosis is always the first step, so now I can start setting boundaries with others when I feel my senses are getting overloaded.”

An Unexpected Lesson COVID-19 Has Taught Me: “I’m more introverted than I ever imagined. I was never a homebody before COVID-19. Turns out, I’m truly enjoying being at home, with my loved ones, with barely any action. I have been unpacking many of my issues in therapy this year, and I am more quiet and centered internally. I no longer need to run to the loud noise, the big to-do in order to escape my inner turmoil. I am much more at peace.”

How I’ll Take This Lesson With Me Post-COVID-19: “I will definitely make time for myself to be still. I may not ever be able to recreate this unique environment again, but I can certainly make it into a daily ritual of stillness, quietness, and inner reflection.”

An Unexpected Lesson COVID-19 Has Taught Me: “As an entrepreneur, I have been trying to think of ways to reinvent the wheel in the retail food business. This is such an old and antiquated market with many middlemen and it’s been making me crazy. How to change the food system when I also have to feed my own two young children AND keep my small business afloat, it means I have to depend on this system. COVID-19 has knocked the grocery store business on its head, and I’m seeing beautiful things emerge—local companies created to deliver farm fresh food to local customers, small retail businesses creating online shopping methods and contactless pickup points, and wholesale delivery services pivoting from restaurant supply to home delivery in order to keep employees working and bring good food into homes.”

How I’ll Take This Lesson With Me Post-COVID-19: “I think I’m going to pivot away from grocery store sales and focus more on partnering with grocery delivery services. It cuts out at least one full warehouse of people that touch my product before you buy it. And I’m going to try and get Lily’s Ladle on more restaurant and cafe menus—sipping broth is healthy, nutritious, and delicious and supports the immune system. Why not have the opportunity to buy some from our favorite lunch spots?”

About the Author: Dreamers & Doers is a private collective for extraordinary entrepreneurial women supporting one another in achieving audacious dreams.

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