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How leaders can respond to “new year, not-so-new challenges” syndrome

The new year's energy fades quickly. How can leaders help their teams and employees move forward throughout all of the coming year?

6 min read


How leaders can respond to "new year, not-so-new challenges" syndrome

Unsplash photo/SmartBrief illustration

Returning from the holiday season, rested and refreshed, tends to breathe renewed life and energy into our work at the beginning of each new year. There are resolutions for improvements. Altered routines to drive greater results. Energizing new projects and areas of focus.

Yet, the cynic in me (and you) knows that the half-life of this new year’s energy and optimism tends to be relatively short under the best of circumstances. (Case in point: Americans reportedly spend $1.8 billion annually on unused gym memberships, and I’ve contributed my fair share to that total.) But the transition from 2020 to 2021 is anything but the best of circumstances.

How many times last month did you experience the excitement, relief, glee or hope of others looking forward to putting 2020 behind them? The inconvenient truth, however, is that when we turned the page from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1, we didn’t usher in a fresh slate or new set of conditions.

For most people, it’s just more of the same; while in many parts of the country, people actually face more restrictive measures, greater loss and terrifying news on a daily basis.

Leaders must be aware of this reality. And they must anticipate that this year, the new year’s high may fade more quickly and dramatically than in the past, giving way to another round of stress, isolation and hopelessness.

An employee’s ability to successfully persevere and navigate these continuing challenges depends largely upon their leaders finding ways to help tap and elevate three key qualities.


Who do you want to be with in a crisis? The person who runs around with their hair on fire or the “Steady Edwina/Eddie” who demonstrates a sense of calm and composure, who isn’t swayed by the ups or the downs?

This kind of grace under pressure offers comfort to the individual and to those around them while contributing to an environment that enables positive responses to challenging situations.


According to philosopher and author Alain de Botton, “A good half of the art of living is resilience.” And many employees feel like they’ve lived that half of their lives just since March! Resilience is the ability to recover quickly and bounce back from challenges and difficulties, and it’s a quality that’s needed now more than ever.


The events of the past year have been exhausting for everyone. And yet, somehow, we need for everyone to find their inner reserves of strength — physical, emotional and intellectual — to emerge successfully together.

The decision to demonstrate resilience, equanimity and energy is a personal choice made by each individual. It can’t be mandated or forced. There are, however, certain leadership actions that can inspire employees to tap and make use of these qualities. And they tend to be timeless leadership fundaments that enhance engagement and performance during good and challenging times alike.

  • Consistency. According to Victor Lipman, “While consistency is a desirable trait at any time, I’d argue it’s even more important in these uncertain, unpredictable times. People want normality and predictability in their lives, especially when so much has recently been lost.”
  • Compassion. The past year has ushered into the workplace an unprecedented level of humanity. And compassion is a big part of that. It reveals itself in genuine care and concern for the whole person. Acknowledgement of the challenges, fears and losses. Leaders demonstrating their vulnerability and authenticity. These actions go a long way toward honoring the experiences of others and supporting them through it all.
  • Connection. We were experiencing a loneliness epidemic before COVID-19, and this has only been exacerbated by the isolation, shutdowns, work-from-home arrangements and ongoing medical fears. Effective leaders understand that connection serves business and human needs, and they make this a personal priority, checking in routinely on their reports. These leaders also appreciate that importance of team connections. They work tirelessly to enable the social support people need through regular communication, collaborative project work, team-building and more.
  • Challenge. When employees are invited to step up in new ways, take on new assignments or hone new skills, they are given a springboard for tapping energy, building equanimity and increasing resilience. Raising the bar offers a constructive mental focus while enabling greater contribution today and in the future.
  • Celebration. For most of us, the mind travels more nimbly to what’s not working, what’s going wrong. And there has certainly been plenty of that over the past year. And, while challenges, losses and setbacks must be processed and learned from, they must also be balanced with accomplishments, successes and progress. Leaders who train their eyes to find and celebrate the positive inspire the same in those around them. This involves letting others know what they’ve done well, sharing successes and drawing attention to what will energize the team.

2021 has the potential to be an exciting, uplifting and transformative year. But it won’t pass without its bumps. That’s why leaders need to be prepared with conscious, proactive strategies that will enable employees to not just get through this period but also to emerge on the other side stronger, having cultivated equanimity, resilience, and energy in the process.


Looking for additional leadership ideas and resources? Because supporting employee engagement and performance this year demands a clear-eyed look at last year, download our complimentary e-toolkit, Hot Mess? Dumpster Fire? Train Wreck? You Still Have to Conduct Year-End Reviews. In it, you’ll find a novel way to get employees to prepare, a roadmap to a productive conversation, the must-ask questions, pitfalls, tips for handling it remotely, and even strategies for addressing the dreaded money question.

Julie Winkle Giulioni works with organizations worldwide to improve performance through leadership and learning. Named one of Inc. Magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers, Giulioni is the co-author of the Amazon and Washington Post bestseller “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want,” You can learn more about her speaking, training and blog at

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