Leading into 2020, my team and I were tremendously optimistic. We had finished the prior year strongly and were looking forward to a year that would have set records for our company.
This optimism led to us gearing up for growth. We hired more people and we rented new space… five times the size of the space we had been in.
Locked-in business made this a necessity. We wouldn’t have been able to serve the clients who were asking for our services had we not done this.
In hindsight, optimism was easy.
On March 9, 2020, we moved into our new space with great anticipation.
Then, on March 13, 2020, Covid 19 was labeled a global pandemic. On that same day, we sent our staff home, our new space nothing more than a hope for better days.
In the ensuing eight weeks, things went from good to bad to worse.
It started with clients who had committed to engaging us later in the year pulling back. The growth we were anticipating was gone. And then the reality hit the customers we were currently serving and our monthly revenue fell by 40%.
We were staring down monthly losses that would be catastrophic.
I know that many others faced the same thing through Covid. Many had it far worse than we did. Nonetheless, the viability of the business was in doubt.
All of a sudden, optimism sounded almost delusional. In fact, it forced us to step back and question what we really mean by the word ‘optimism’.
Our business recognizes optimism as a core trait of resilient leadership. It was being put to the test in real-time.
We learned what optimism is not.
It is not ignoring the realities of the moment and believing they will go away.
It is not about a demonstration of positivity.
It is not blind faith.
We learned that optimism is about hard work. It is about believing that this work will pay off in the end. It is about confronting the realities and dealing with them.
Optimism, we learned, is not particularly important when times are good. But it is essential when times are bad.
We are now emerging from the Covid era and it is time to reflect. I do this with a profound sense of pride in my team.
My colleagues had every opportunity to cocoon. They had every opportunity to give up.
They chose a different path.
The team recognized that we would need to shift how we did business. They realized that we had allowed ourselves to be vulnerable through our business practices.
Every person on the team committed to their role and what they would do differently to adapt to these difficult conditions.
We shared our realities throughout the pandemic. We shared information about financial losses and we shared how long we could sustain them.
We learned that optimism is about accepting difficult times as a learning opportunity to become better and stronger.
For context, Ignite is a small business. It is the primary source of income for my family and it is our retirement plan. Losing it would have been catastrophic. And, admittedly, I wavered. There are days I wasn’t my best. There were days I was my worst! There were days when I felt very alone. And there were days when I wanted to give up. During these days, I learned something else about optimism. It is not something you can have alone. It was on these dark days that my teammates gave me purpose and resolve. This became the next key learning. Optimism is a team endeavor. We simply cannot do it alone.
What was reinforced through the pandemic is that optimism is a driving force of resiliency. It was our team’s optimism that carried us through those dark days.
Over the next months, my colleague, Ali Grovue, and I will be publishing our manuscript on the traits of resilient leadership. Rest assured, optimism will be central to this.
If this topic is of interest to you, I encourage you to follow us at Ignite and we’ll be sure to get information to you about the availability of the book once it is published.
Author: Mike Watson