Here We Stand

David Ivers is from Sydney, Australia. He is a qualified Primary and Secondary School Teacher. In total, he has served on school leadership teams for 16 years in senior leadership roles.

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.

T.S. Eliot (1942) ‘Little Gidding’  

It would not be outrageous to suggest that the pandemic of COVID-19 has created havoc in both the working life and the personal life of many. It has challenged our understanding of normal. Depending on the country or jurisdiction that you live in, the year may well have been marked by separation from family and loved ones for an extended period of time. It has in many cases been marked by locked downs, shutdowns, and lockouts. Likewise, for many, it has involved learning to work remotely and even socialize remotely. As a result, it has also been a year marked by creativity and innovation. In Australia where licensed venues such as hotels were locked down for a long period of time, those with a micro-brewery started to turn their hand to the production of Hand Sanitizer, with over 60% of alcohol content onboard. Others developed product ranges to be delivered to people living in mandated isolation. Government services in countries like Australia saw an increase in the recruitment of staff to both state and federal government agencies, in order to meet the demand for a broad range of government services. There is much to learn from the experience of 2020 and the pandemic. With December now here and the end of the year only a few weeks away, it is a good time to give voice to a reflection of where we have been in 2020 and where we might be heading in the new year. 

As we reflect on the year that was, as we gather in our place, our own space and time, we reflect on the fact that we are gathered across the globe, connected with a common humanity. We take the time in December 2020 to show ourselves to be more than a people of misfortune courtesy of a pandemic. We reflect as a people of measure, a people of hope, a people of discernment, a people who care. Without a doubt, the pandemic appears to have challenged at an individual and societal level our sense of faith, hope, and love (especially love of neighbor and our sense of belonging). 

Reflecting on the Australian experience, where levels of local transmission of COVID-19 are extremely low, the economy has now started to reopen and already it is showing signs of growth in the last quarter. “The latest figures from the Bureau of Statistics show GDP grew 3.3 percent in the September quarter, but declined 3.8 percent in the year to September 2020” (ABC News 2 December 2020). 

This kind of economic ‘success’ reflects the fact that from the start of the pandemic in March, the federal and state government leaders came together every Friday for a meeting of what has been called the ‘National Cabinet’. It draws on a practice usually reserved for wartime. Despite the political differences, the leaders were willing, within reason, to work together to lead the country across a metaphorical bridge to the other side of the pandemic, where a vaccine exists and a new normal, a new version of the world can be created. The reality, as the time this article is written, Australia is on the cusp of getting to the other side of the bridge. With over 10,000,000 COVID-19 tests conducted nationally year-to-date, with only 0.3% testing positive, and zero cases of COVID-19 in Intensive Care in hospitals nationally, clearly, the strategy of governments, state and federal, have had an impact. (See Coronavirus (COVID-19) current situation and case numbers (Australia)

It suggests that they care about their constituents and as a result, the Australian public were prepared to work together for the common good of all. Throughout it all has been the sense that the metaphorical bridge is not a ‘bridge too far’ if as a country we can stay on top of the numbers. Almost 9 months on there is a real sense that we are in a better position than in March / April 2020. By April 2020, public gatherings of any kind were banned under public health orders, this included a gathering for Church services. Easter Church services, for example, could not have congregations. Fast forward to December and Christmas Church services will go ahead with congregations. Importantly, we appear to have reached a point where families that live in different states can reunite in time for Christmas. 

The experience of remote work is another consideration. During the shutdown, many in the workforce were allowed to work from home, with only essential workers able to drive to work each day. As the pandemic continued to burn through the community in 2020, it soon became obvious to any student of business or of organizations, that there may be savings to be made if employees continue to work from home post-COVID-19. This raises issues around isolation from colleagues. Issues around how you work as part of a team when you rarely see each other face-to-face. It raises the question as to how you onboard new staff when most staff exist offsite, in the virtual world. Socialization of new and existing employees is a critical reason as to why working together, shoulder to shoulder with each other, is important. In the personal realm, questions of mental health for individuals are real for many who have been in isolation for an extended period of time.

At this point, we seek to create a new world, one that echoes the call of care, concern, cooperation, and compassion.


Writing in ‘Psychology Today’, Rubin Gretchen (2009) in the excellent article Stop Expecting to Change Your Habit in 21 Days’ confirms that it takes on average 66 days to change habits, to habituate new behavior. If that’s true, then people who have been locked down for an extended period of time most likely will need to relearn habits, especially around social interactions, including work relationships. These are just some of the challenges we have endured in 2020, courtesy of a pandemic, and need to consider in 2021. 

What starts to emerge from such encounters with the pandemic, is that your context is everything. Each location is different from the next and may make sense of the pandemic in slightly different ways. That said, the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t discriminate. Heads of Government, leaders on the world stage, a worker on an average wage, the homeless person on the street, can all contract COVID-19. We have seen that in 2020. Why? The thing they have in common is that they are human and that brings its own frailty and vulnerability. 

From these limited reflections, the lessons from the COVID-19 experience in 2020 are clear. the key lesson to learn is cooperation, care, compassion, and concern for self and each other. As challenging as the core values of faith, hope, and love (especially of neighbor and in the context of belonging) might be during the pandemic, it is critical to hold closely to them if you are to move forward in a post-pandemic world. Why? Simply, from these three things, others flow. To have faith is to believe that we will soon be in a better place and that gives hope for a future that might have a chance of being recalibrated into something better. Love of course leads to people caring about other people in their personal and their work life. 

How does this impact organizations such as government agencies? To get to the other side of the bridge, the government of the day will most likely need to change their policy settings. Failure to do so will seem like there is an ill-considered response. If the policy settings are correct, especially in the context of expert advice, that needs to be clearly communicated to the public. Government agencies will need to move into top gear and possibly over-drive, to roll out government programs that respond to the pandemic. This may well have implications for recruitment levels and budgets. For people applying for jobs, at interview remember the context in which you will be working and address it. 

For leaders of organizations, the pandemic has ushered in the era of the soft skills or those essential skills that individuals have, that habituate how they operate. The hard-nosed business leader constantly checking the bottom line will most likely find that their social license rests with how they care about their employees and their customers, knowing that one will positively impact the other. 

TAFE New South Wales explains the soft/essential skills as: 

“Soft Skills:

Otherwise described as “human”, “social”, “emotional”, “interpersonal”, “people” skills. Includes communication, collaboration, customer service, ethics, creativity, complex problem solving, critical thinking, digital literacy, adaptability/learnability, cognitive flexibility, emotional intelligence, initiative, judgment, decision making, negotiation and persuasion, people management, and conflict management.”  TAFE NSW (2019) ‘Soft v Hard Skills’ Broadway | TAFE NSW Enterprise. p4. 

What should be obvious from this list provided Technical and Further Education, New South Wales, is that these skills are really essential skills to everyday life. Embedded in them is the need for leaders and employees alike, to have care, concern, compassion for each other, and their customers and clients. The pandemic has highlighted the need for this, especially for those working remotely or living in isolation. 

A recent Gallup report (June 2020) also found an increased need for the soft/essential skills. 

“Leaders are working feverishly to manage issues like revenue and expenses — but there’s another critical need in this “next normal” that leaders must invest in to protect their organization’s long-term survival: employees’ wellbeing. It’s little surprise that employee wellbeing is eroding amid the pandemic. In fact, Gallup Panel data show that, during the first week of April, 60% of Americans report significant stress and 60% report significant worry — and that life ratings in the U.S. have plummeted to a 12-year low. Well-being is about much more than physical wellness or happiness. Gallup research has established that high wellbeing equates to a life well-lived across five critical elements: career, social, physical, financial, and community wellbeing.”

Gabsa, R., Rastogi, S. (June 2020) ‘Take Care of Your People, and They’ll Take Care of Business’Gallup Organization.

In preparing for a new year, a world of new opportunities, it is worth recalibrating your ‘Personal Plan’ for 2021. Simply put, it is a plan that covers the key areas of life, to which you add one or two action goals to achieve next year. You might have had a heavy emphasis on one area in 2020, so it may not need the same level of attention in 2021. It is after all your ‘Personal Plan’. A copy of the template I use can be FOUND HERE

The Personal Plan covers 6 key areas: 

  1. Family / Friends
  2. Health / Well-Being
  3. Study–Formal / Informal
  4. Career
  5. Wealth Creation
  6. Inner-Life and Well-Being 

There is scope here to include actions around the soft/essential skills mentioned earlier. 

A cursory glance and reflection of the year that has been, has brought us to this junction. Throughout the year, we have traveled down roads not previously seen or explored. At the junction, upon which we now stand, options appear. These may be in alignment with how successful your jurisdiction has been in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. There exists a variety of roads that lead us out of 2020. The real danger is that one of the roads ahead may well be a loop road that takes us back to a spike in the year that has been. The other roads should take us into fresh and unknown territory. As we stand in this place, at this time and in this space, it can be seen that in spite of the challenges of the Pandemic, we the people were indeed people of measure, a people of hope, a people of discernment, a people who cared. In showing care and concern for others, collectively we stand on a precipice. At this point, we seek to create a new world, one that echoes the call of care, concern, cooperation, and compassion. 

Abraham Lincoln captured this well: 

The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Abraham Lincoln December 1, 1862. Annual Message to Congress: Concluding Remarks.

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