The pandemic has affected every organization in its own unique way. Even within the CPG industry, some companies have suffered immensely, others have flourished, and many are somewhere in between. No matter where you and your organization fall on this spectrum, the universal truth is that it has been immensely challenging for everyone.

Business leaders in particular have been challenged in a very distinctive way during the pandemic. They’ve been faced with a rapidly evolving situation that no one was prepared for. During the past year, they’ve been tasked with shepherding their business through unprecedented times while dealing with the personal stresses and strains of the pandemic like everyone else.

In 2021, as leaders work their way through the end of the pandemic and a return to the new normal, there are many lessons to be learned. It’s probably still premature to write a book on leadership lessons from the pandemic but many prominent business leaders have said and shared pieces of advice that other leaders can take and learn from.

“How companies treat employees during this pandemic will define their brand for decades”
Entrepreneur, NBA owner, “Shark Tank” host, and all-around business leader Mark Cuban tweeted this about rushing people back to work during the pandemic. His point illustrates how important the decisions leaders make are and how they take on added importance during a crisis.

The Lesson: While companies may be celebrated when times are good and the bonuses flow, it is how an organization (and its leadership) treats employees during the tough times that will stick with the public and resonate for their brand. Although the pandemic seems to be winding down, rushing back into things can have long-lasting consequences.

“Thank God for COVID, now we have flexibility”
Former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi made this tongue-in-cheek exclamation during a speech about women in the workforce. Women have suffered more professional setbacks during the pandemic than men but Nooyi has high hopes that the next two decades, “will be the decades of women.”

The Lesson: Just because the old model worked doesn’t mean it didn’t have flaws. Leaders can push for a return to the office in some capacity but they should also look to embrace some of the flexibility brought on by the pandemic. This especially applies to flexible work situations that have offered new participation opportunities to women.

“This is kind of like a practice run for something that might in the future might have a really high mortality rate”
Never one to shy away from an edgy quote, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told this to podcast host Joe Rogan in 2020. While it is often good practice to take what Musk says with a grain of salt (especially when he’s hanging out with Rogan), a lesson can be found in this quote.

The Lesson: No one could have planned for COVID-19 and what happened because of it. Now you can though. While we all hope that this was a once-in-a-lifetime event, you never know. Once we put the pandemic in our rearview mirror, it is up to leaders to put new contingency plans in place in case something like this ever happens again.

“We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months”
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told this to investors on an earnings call in 2020. The pandemic had just started and Microsoft Teams experienced an unprecedented boom in use and had to scale quickly. This type of overnight transformation was not uncommon for companies with products or services that became vital during the pandemic.

The Lesson: Agility in business is so important. When something is failing, being able to pivot away from it is crucial. When success comes fast though, it’s just as important. Being able to scale fast and build on success is something every leader should aspire to.

“When something bad happens you have three choices: You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.”
This quote comes from, of all people, Dr. Seuss, but it was shared in the closing paragraphs of a letter to shareholders written by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos at the beginning of the pandemic. We are now close to the one-year anniversary of Bezos sharing this quote and it is as relevant today as it was then.

The Lesson: This should be a mantra for leaders going forward in 2021 and beyond. COVID-19 happened, it did unimaginable harm, and it caused unbelievable change, but now we’re here and leaders who want to have success going forward need to let this experience strengthen you, not define or destroy you.