My 6 Top Lessons of 2020

Dr Ivan Joseph
December 28, 2020

I think we can certainly all agree with the following sentiment: ”What a year this has been!” Without a doubt, 2020 will go down as one of the biggest years of disruption, chaos, and challenge that humankind has seen for a long time. However, 2020 has also provided us with some of the greatest innovations humankind has ever seen as well.

One of the innovations I noticed this past year was when universities across the world pivoted on a dime to provide remote online education. This initiative would have taken years ‘before for the academy’ to even consider such a drastic change in the past. Similarly, in a matter of weeks, Zoom, Teams, and WebEx became the common vernacular across industries as they shifted to a remote working environment, arguably changing the future of work forever. And finally, Operation Warp Speed provided a new Coronavirus vaccine in months, as opposed to years, by using new mRNA technology. 

Scientists around the world came together to do what everyone thought was impossible. Adversity was everywhere in 2020, but so, too, was innovation.

As I look back at my year, I can see how filled it was with changes. Emotional peaks and valleys were the unpredictable pattern of my year.  There were times of great highs and jubilations, as well as, quiet moments shedding a few tears at times of being overwhelmed with all the changes life was presenting. Through it all there were lessons learned that have made me a better leader, coach and person.

Here are six lessons that 2020 has provided me:

In February, I was coaching the Guyana Women’s team at the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Championships in the Dominican Republic. It was the first time a team from Guyana had qualified, and we were on a roll. We were 3-1 in the opening round and had surprised a lot of people advancing into the next rounds. We had to play a powerful Haiti team who had a very dominant player. I wanted to engage an unconventional strategy that would see her impact negated by employing a player to mark her the entire game. A simple but effective strategy.  Long story short—I allowed myself to be dissuaded from this strategy, and that woman scored three goals on us. We lost the game 3-0.

Lesson 1.  Trust yourself when your name and reputation are on the line.

Lesson 2. The best plans are often the simplest ones. KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid 🙂

Leadership is tough at the best of times, but it can become extremely challenging during a crisis. Teams become more effective during a crisis when leaders make sure their people feel like they matter and belong. Often executives feel pressured to shrink the table when facing time-sensitive decisions. A common mistake is only leaving chairs for those at the very top of the organization. People can feel disenfranchised when they are excluded from the decision-making process that directly impacts their ability to do their job leaving them with anxiety. Lack of communication ultimately impacts the retention of your employees and may limit the ability to solve problems in a timely fashion. Often great ideas for solving complex problems come from the folks who are on the ground doing the work. Keep them at the table.


Lesson 3.  You cannot over communicate in a crisis.

Lesson 4.  Find simple ways to recognize and appreciate the sacrifices your team members  are making. This simple gratitude will go a long way for morale and sustain performance.

In October, I started a new job at a different university. I was living in a beautiful part of Canada on the Atlantic ocean, and was walking to work every day. I loved having no commute. The individuals that were a part of my team were exceptionally talented and hard working.  It was a joy to lead them. The university had an outstanding international reputation of excellence.  However, I decided it was time for me to go after only 18 months there.


 I left for a job at a smaller university that had a commute and even took a pay cut.  A job should never be about the money or the reputation.  For me, it’s always about the alignment of values and clarity of purpose. I have always stated that I am an educator first and foremost as my clear purpose statement.


My top two key values are Autonomy and Respect–meaning freedom and space to do my job, as well as, trust in my ability to do the right thing.  When there is no room for these values to operate, I become a less effective leader.  Instead of being unhappy and becoming toxic, it was time for me to go. I found an institution where there was an alignment of purpose and values.  When I can lead from an authentic place, I am a more engaged leader as a result of clarity of purpose and values.

Lesson 5.  You are responsible for your own happiness in the workplace — no one else will take on that job for you.

Lesson 6. Know if your job is good for you by being clear on your purpose and values.

Take a moment to reflect on what 2020 has taught you. Choose not to focus only on the challenges but what you did to move yourself forward when times were tough. It’s about to be 2021 and time to put those lessons forward to tackle the new challenges that lie ahead.  As a high performer, there will be always new challenges for you because you are never happy with the status quo. Revel in that thought because it means you are making progress and moving the needle forward.

I wish you all the best in the year to come.

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