„Annus horribiliis“ was what the Queen called 1997 – understandably so from her perspective. Similarly, 2020 could well go down in our collective memory as that sort of year. No doubt, it doesn’t compare well judged by our normal criteria… As concerns our cherished pre-Christmas conviviality, there isn’t much to look forward to, and just like „strategic planning“, our private plans have been a laugh since the Spring… Most people’s worldview, personal as well as business prospects received serious blows, and we all experienced limitations and restrictions, with no end in sight.

Practically year-round disaster reports (remember climate change, just before Corona?) suggest that our world is becoming an ever more threatening place. The best thing to do would be to close ourselves off to opinions and points of view that challenge our own, right? Well, those who wanted to avoid self-reflection got enough bad news to feed fear, confusion, anger and depression. But: why live in a stress trance?

I too caught myself in a bit of a stress trance in Spring. But like most people, I climbed out of my hole and made the best of this ever-changing situation so that I could breathe freely again – forgive the pun. At some point one has to decide to pull out of the media maelstrom. Only then, the big „on the other hand“ comes into vision as we look back on this year: it has confronted each of us with ourselves in an unprecedented way. Every year, disaster – personal or professional – strikes some in our circle, yet collectively, we have not seen anything like this for two generations. Leading a self-determined life does not depend on wearing a mask, nor on accepting restrictions or even lockdowns.

Sure, drastic changes are easier to accept if they are „self-inflicted“ and related to personal goals. This year has forced us to take a step back as regards our own importance – and some of us were able to discover other sides to life, new values, skills and aspects of our personality…

Especially, I think that if the advent season – even without Christmas markets – ever made sense in the last few decades, then that must surely be this year! When have you last really listened to the texts of Christmas carols? Yes, mingling with friends over mulled wine, baked apples, or gingerbread is a nice tradition (or whatever yours are) and our social selves need exchange, contact and confirmation to sense our role in the complex network of relationships. But reflection is always asking to look inward…

Anyone who has been contemplative and mindful of their feelings and those of their loved ones will have noticed that good practices have stabilized – although many might not have received the space and appreciation they deserved pre-COVID. However, other areas emerged that we have to “revisit” – some possibly only when we have more energy…

I cannot recommend being attentive to yourself and your emotional states enough, especially in these difficult times. Because people who feel deeply uncared for and threatened won’t listen, and thus develop little potential for collaboration and creativity – and this may well turn those external threats into self-fulfilling prophecies, with dramatic consequences.

Of course I don’t want to play down the challenges. How could I – I have experienced earlier than many others the fallout not just on my personal life, but also my business. It turned out that my clients weren’t keen to try online tools. They preferred to wait until we could meet in person again. As a result, my “executive sparring” went to zero in the 2nd quarter. People want to discuss difficult, complex and critical situations and scenarios either personally – or not at all; certainly not with the reduced depth and complexity of two-dimensional dialogue, not to speak of confidentiality issues. I could relate to that, and today obviously everyone has experienced how nuance and detail get lost on screen – not to speak of sound distortions, staggered images and tech glitches… Sometimes, budget cuts and reorganizations affected my customers themselves or their projects – which in combination had me working less than ever before this spring and summer. Of course this created insecurities.

I have no idea when I’ll get back to something nearing my 2019 level; it may take a while. But I know one thing: nobody needs a stressed, burned-out coach – nor, by the way, their caricature, the „positive thinker no-matter-what“. Since this applies to everyone who leads others and influences the fortunes of companies, I am rather optimistic. Corporate players who dare to think ahead (an often dangerous activity anyway that is not getting easier at the moment) appreciate someone with whom they can discuss their communication and negotiation strategies and avoid mistakes upfront. I am sure they will find budgets for our work again. Thankfully, my business owner clients already did.

In a physical and psychological state of being at the limits of one’s bandwidth, there is little room for deeper thoughts. Therefore, I think the turn of the year is an excellent opportunity to come to terms with what 2020 has brought, and to take our thinking forward. We now know that we will most likely not die of Corona, although the morbidity of this virus is treacherous. Anything that serves to avoid contagion or end infection chains makes huge sense, but isn’t something to live by. Risk balancing will have to become a daily routine; I think of it like turning off the water after a shower…

I wish you an exciting and powerful year 2021 with Corona, not despite it. Let’s not accept being hypnotised by this term, and let’s balance the inevitable newsfeed with positive actions we take in our immediate surroundings. There are more serious blows to come… and it is worth remembering that the situation looks different from different perspectives even today, which is true of any situation.

Speaking of which: if you have a lot of responsibility, treat yourself to half a day to review 2020 in terms of “what remains, what was good” and to get in the mood for the things that are on your plate for 2021. For one thing is certain – it won’t be an easy year either. Which is exactly why you should make sure something positive can „stick“ in your personal experience. Everybody finds different things difficult and stressful, so needs to clarify their “change energy” with a pro. Therefore, if you like, we can spend this time together either – where possible as a face-to-face session in Hamburg, Berlin or Prague. I have had many combined walk-and-not-so-popular-café meetings in the past seven months J. There is also a virtual option, which can be split into two sessions. I am happy to provide details on request. (PS This session can also make a precious gift for someone near and dear, or a deserved colleague…)

What has changed for me in 2020? Well, this summer, the question I faced was: what do I do when my corporate clientele is busy with absorbing the shock, busy with themselves, and on top of that, my tried and tested work formats don’t really fly? Also, what if my core clients will have no or limited budgets for years? For someone who needs tricky challenges to feel happy and satisfied, this isn’t just about money. I cannot imagine life without exciting clients and their projects! J

I had two answers: one, go where the stakes are high, so the pain of doing nothing and failing is greater than making one last bold move (=in this case, getting me in) and see what happens. I have been working with one VC investor and members of his management team for a few years now, who wanted to use their role as board members in their portfolio companies for maximum positive impact. The group invests in clean-tech companies – exciting solutions, and clever and super committed people who have a lot of heart and soul in their company. At some point, these teams can get caught in unhealthy dynamics that endanger effective collaboration, so I get called in to work with one person, or the top team individually and as a group. Great work – if you are curious, have a look at the attached article!

Two, beef up your communication – I had discovered that outside my trusted circle of clients and referrers, people’s associations with coaching were literally all over the place… but NOT what I somehow expected them to know 🙂 – namely that a coach like me was someone who:

  • helps you uncover your energy around your personal change project, and lights the fire in you for your transformation
  • and makes sure you channel that energy in the best ways forward, which includes developping the mindsets and toolsets you need to succeed.

No doubt about it, I have done a terrible job in communicating that, and what’s worse, until this summer, I was totally unaware of it.

So, realizing that I’d have some time on my hands in 2020, that’s what I focused on: I invested into working with a real pro – he has mentored independent professionals to communicate to their ideal clients for 30 years. The goal is to make sense to those of my friends and in my business network who trust me to have a brain, yet still have no clue about how my work actually helps my clients. As I said, their ideas were depressingly all over the place, and for most, the idea of personally working with a coach was about as appealing as having a couple of teeth out… It doesn’t get much worse than this.

I wish you a beautiful Christmas and all the best for the New Year!

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