What’s Your Theme for 2021?

Going into 2021, I reflected on all that we learned and accomplished in 2020. Clarity and focus paid off. What would be the theme for this year?

Welcome 2021, and Happy New Year everyone! Yes, I know, our fairy godmother didn’t waive her magic wand and transform our lives into a completely new world as the clock struck midnight on January 1st. We still have our challenges from 2020. We are still constantly learning how to endure, stay hopeful, and be more creative in how we solve problems. We are committing again and again to caring for our teams and ourselves.

I want to share something that has worked really well for me as I lead our team, particularly in turbulent times.

Each year, I set a theme for myself. This theme embodies my focus for the year, and I choose it based on two criteria:  

1) What I see as my biggest opportunities and needs for growth (both personally and professionally).  

2) What I think my team needs the most from me.

In 2020, my theme was focus and clarity. At the close of 2019, as I looked back at how far we had come in the first two years at Uprise, I was humbled and grateful for our clients who appreciated us, our passionate and talented team, and our tremendous growth. It was a creative and experimental time as we tested new approaches, learned what worked best for us, and found our sweet spot as an organization.

With that knowledge, we entered 2020 focused on defining what made us really special and how we could further excel in what we do.  

As a result of this focus, we winnowed our service offerings and our methods for delivery. We defined our best practices. We moved to an agile planning and delivery process. We honed in on the types of clients we wanted to work with and which clients we would respectfully say “no” to.  

And we responded to client demand and launched a new division of our company: IT Managed Services. Built on our skills and experiences, Managed Services is focused on digital transformation, IT, and CTO-as-a-Service.  

Amid a global pandemic and a recession, we continued our rapid growth rate and doubled our team.

Going into 2021, I reflected on all that we learned and accomplished in 2020. Clarity and focus paid off. What would be the theme for this year?  

My theme for 2021 is listening and teaching.  

I want to be the best leader and teammate I can be. For me, that means taking time every day to really hear the challenges and perspectives of my team, as well as sharing the knowledge I’ve been lucky to gain over the years.  

I want to be a better listener. I’m a good listener now. I’m adept at understanding nuance and expressing empathy. I realize I’m starting from a solid place, but I want to do better. In the past, I had a fast-paced method of operating, which inherently meant there wasn’t much time to slow down and listen.  

As I rushed between client deliverables and meetings and financial planning, I didn’t create the space to give my team the time they needed to really share with me. I also didn’t give myself all the time I wanted to listen to myself – to reflect on a deeper level everything that was whirling around me. All of this is not a fail… it’s a different way of operating. The way I operated last year was what was needed of me at the time. It was where I needed to be.  

This year I need to operate differently. We hired leaders last year who can run the day-to-day of the business, which means my role has shifted. How I can best build up our team and grow our business is evolving, and I now have the time and mental space to listen, to understand, and to support my teammates in new ways. How can I help strategize to solve a client problem? When am I needed, and when should I stay out of it? How do we streamline our client communications? What types of training would help each team member get to the next level? Who is feeling burned out? Who needs a more challenging project?  

Listening – asking the right questions and truly hearing the “why” behind the words – is going to unlock success for us this year.  

I want to be a better teacher. Last year’s go-go-go approach also meant I wasn’t the best teacher. With heavy demands on my time and not enough hands to help, taking time to teach simply wasn’t a top priority. I’ve been in the communications and digital marketing space for 20 years now, and I have worked with some of the world’s fastest growing and most innovative companies. I don’t say this to be boastful, but I know A LOT about growing companies, communicating with customers, and problem solving.  

I want to share more of that with my team. They learn from me as we collaborate, and I want to continue that. I want to also create materials and more structured sessions to pass on helpful information. For example, we’re starting this year with two trainings – one on time management and the other on customer success.  

I also want to devote more time to teaching specific team members based on their unique needs and challenges, so we can collaboratively solve past the problem. I’m currently working with one of our team members on prioritization and time management. We talk about work commitments, meeting deadlines, pacing work, and all of that, of course, but we also talk about how work fits with personal commitments and goals and what tools are available that tackle the problem in a holistic way.

I’m excited with this new chapter and looking forward to a prosperous 2021. I wish you a year of abundance and health. I’ll keep you posted on how I’m doing with my theme!

Malinda Gagnon

Malinda is CEO at Uprise and has more than 20 years of experience in business strategy and technology at companies including Google and WPP, and has advised clients such as Procter & Gamble, General Electric, VW, BlackRock, and Walmart.

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