The pandemic turned all our lives upside down. In April 2020, I was on the verge of launching “Girl Decoded,” my memoir on the importance of emotional intelligence in technology. With a snap of the fingers, all bets were off. But despite the challenges I faced — and in many ways because of them — I learned much more as a leader than what it takes to write, publish and promote a book.
Looking back, my biggest takeaways center on how we can all become more effective and empathetic leaders and treat challenges as opportunities to apply our personal strengths at work.
Bring your can-do mindset.
When we first learned “Girl Decoded” would no longer launch with in-person events as planned, it would have been easy to throw in the towel. But instead we put our heads together and prioritized a can-do and creative mindset. Very quickly, my team and I planned a series of virtual events that could capture the same engagement we’d intended to have in person, and also connect with audiences near and far. The results were better than we ever imagined, and a big reason behind our success was our willingness to experiment.
Also, try not to get overly attached to outcomes within a journey. When we let go of some of our own expectations, new doors open — and maybe even bigger and better ones. I see opportunities to check for new doors daily and now make more time to peak inside. What doors are you closing yourself off from?
In times of experimentation, it’s important to lean on those around you. As is true in life, tackling new challenges and inventing new opportunities is easier with a trusted team and sounding board. To build this community and increase trust, be honest about how you’re feeling and where you need support. A can-do mindset is easier to achieve and maintain when all of the “canning” and “doing” doesn’t fall on any one person’s plate — and having a healthy dialogue starts with you being vulnerable as a business leader.
When you do, I bet you’ll be surprised by the outcomes (and the silver linings). I sure was. Over a period of just a few months, we hosted 15 live stream events that brought together more than 80,000 viewers from 40 different countries. Friends, loved ones and colleagues joined us from all corners of the globe, and that connectivity wouldn’t have been possible with an in-person event.
Take the path less traveled (and be okay with failing along the way).
When we shifted to a virtual book launch, we had to imagine what people would enjoy and show up for. There were no templates, which meant everything was fair game. If an idea didn’t stick we tried something else. Over time, we grew more comfortable being our own experts despite the uncertainty of the world around us.
Ahead of our virtual book party, for example, we created virtual goody bags filled with pictures and excerpts from “Girl Decoded,” but also included less traditional items like a Spotify playlist and one of my favorite tagine recipes from Egypt. We learned as we went and took notice of small aha moments, too. For instance, we picked a set time and day for my live streams to provide a sense of rhythm for viewers. We also focused on producing snackable content, as we understood how short attention spans were given everything going on in the world at the time.
Taking the path less traveled doesn’t mean moving in leaps and bounds. From my experience, it shouldn’t. Try identifying one area of your business or team that needs improvement. Then break it down — what exactly would an ideal outcome look like? Who can help? What skills are required to see through this work? By segmenting your unknowns and breaking items into smaller actions, you can reduce fears and tackle new scenarios with more confidence.
It’s inevitable that we encounter challenging situations at work. Maybe you have an upcoming presentation that’s causing you to panic, or you’re feeling the strain of a major departmental deadline. While we can rarely control the external factors around us (hello pandemic) and the pressures we face, we can change the way we react in these situations.
Two years on from my book launch, I’m so proud of how we took a bad situation and made something really amazing happen. We created experiences that were new, impactful and full of creativity. When can you apply a can-do attitude during a difficult moment? Where do you see silver living and opportunities to step beyond your comfort zone? How can you deviate from the status quo, and what will be the impetus for when you do? Perhaps this is it.