The people's voice of reason

Realistic Expectations for 2021


Everyone I know is anxious to return to some semblance of normalcy, and it is tempting to look toward 2021 as the cure for all our problems related to this past year. But as much as I and many others want to do just that … it might be a big mistake!

Now, I view myself as a very positive leader. One of my favorite quotes is this:

* A pessimist complains about the wind.

* An optimist believes it will change.

* A positive leader adjusts the sails.

As a positive leader, I always want to cast a hopeful vision for the future. But I might add that I also try to be a realistic, positive leader. And while I am genuinely excited and positive about the New Year, I think it is possible and wise to plan for a positive future in the New Year and also be realistic about our expectations for 2021.

So, here are 4 ways to embrace realistic expectations for 2021:

1. The shut down happened overnight. But the recovery and reopening will be much more gradual ...

For your business, organization, school or place of worship, there may not be a “reopening day” or even a season where everyone goes back to “normal”. Whatever the new normal may be.

Vaccines are being distributed and given right now to front line workers, nursing home patients and high-risk individuals. But we don’t really know how long it may realistically take to get enough people vaccinated so that we can experience what they call “heard immunity”.

We don’t know how long it will take for all the restrictions to be lifted.

Government regulations are one thing. Human behavior is quite another. So, it may take a while for people to feel comfortable and safe getting back out in public places.

So, be patient, be flexible, relax as much as possible, and let the year unfold and reveal one day at a time!

2. Normal is being redefined ...

We all long for normal. And by that I mean the way things were before mid March 2020 shut down and before the Government recognized the dangers of COVID 19 and how contagious it was.

Emerging from this pandemic probably will not be the return to normal we all hope for. At least, not in the short run.... and maybe never! That is because normal is being redefined as I write this. The longer this pandemic drags on, the longer temporary habits become permanent ones. Normal will most likely be a strange and unpredictable mix of the familiar and the new.

I do believe that people will return to live events once things are definitely safe. Restaurants, gyms, schools, churches, football stadiums, basketball arenas and businesses of all sorts will all reopen to capacity once again. Some offices will reopen for in-person work. Vacations will resume. Airports will once again be busy as ever. Resorts will fill up once more.

But, it is also true, that many businesses will have closed during this pandemic. It is reported that a third of the restaurants in the country will have shut their doors forever. Two large gyms in our area just shut down permanently. Lots of companies have downsized and many of them will not go back to providing in person workspaces in huge, expensive office complexes.

We could see a 10 to 30% variation in the way things were. And that is no small thing. So, my point is this. Don’t plan for or expect everything to go back to pre-pandemic “normal”. Be open to new ways of looking at and planning for the future.

3. Unpredictability is the biggest certainty ...

We all like certainty. Right? I sure do. But have we really ever had certainty? Even before the pandemic, no one could promise you certainty. What we had was some form of predictability before the COVID crisis. But like a tsunami, the worldwide pandemic swept all our predictability away. This unpredictability will probably be around for a while longer. Months for sure. Maybe longer.

So, 2020 did some good things. It has taught us agility, flexibility and the ability to move fast and change again. These are great tools to take with us into 2021 as we plan, prepare and work. They may be even more important in the future! The past is littered with businesses, organizations and churches that died because things changed and they didn’t.

4. Positive leaders face the brutal facts (But never lose hope) ...

Jim Stockdale was an American Vise Admiral captured and imprisoned in the Vietnam War. He was held and tortured for seven long years. Stockdale said the first people to die in captivity were the optimists, who kept thinking things were going to get better quickly, and they would be released. When that didn’t happen “they died of a broken heart,” Stockdale said. They lost hope!

Stockdale argued that the key to survival was to combine realism and hope. He put it this way: “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end— which you can never afford to lose— with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

The greatest positive leaders confront the brutal facts but never lose hope. I believe that you and I can prevail in the end in whatever endeavor may lie before us. But there may be some brutal stuff we need to face and get through before things gets better. Crisis leadership falls apart when leaders embrace two extremes: pessimists only see the real, and naive optimists only see the ideal. When you embrace both, you discover true positive leadership!

Whether you are the leader of a family, a business, an organization or a church, 2021 can be a great year for all of us and the people we lead! If we chose to embrace these realistic expectations for 2021, I have no doubt that this New Year can be the best ever!

Happy New Year!


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