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Leading forward in 2021

December 22, 2020
Kathy Bishop
Rock climber untaggling his ropes

A time to reset your leadership pathway

There’s a thread you follow.
It goes among things that change.  But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing. You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see. While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.                                            William Stafford

It has been quite a year! With the global pandemic declared in March 2020, normal ways of operating shifted. Although the shift may have caused confusion and pain, it also offered an opportunity to consider new possibilities. As leaders, we can forward new possibilities in 2021 by setting new year resolutions. Setting new year resolutions may be challenging because of past experiences of unfulfilled wishes and broken promises to self. However, when we take the time to consider the values that underlie our resolutions and how they thread together to form a leadership pathway, we can set ourselves up for successfully leading onwards.

Universal leadership pathway

Brian Hall (n.d) identified a universal leadership pathway in which the interconnection and movement of specific values marks the way of a leader. He noted that the core values on the leadership path include: self-preservation; security; self-worth; competence/confidence; equality/liberation and integration/wholeness; being self and faith/risk/vision; truth/wisdom and word (which speaks to empowering and inspiring communication for eco-harmony) (p. 17). This pathway although linear does not presuppose that one value is better than another, only that earlier values are needed to be in place before more complex values can be engaged. A common mistake is to think of values on their own. Values do not occur in isolation. Values build on each other developmentally. (See Barrett, 2017; Hall, 1994). Hall (1994) also noted that values shift. Therefore, it is important for leaders to take time to reflect upon how they are living the various core values of the leadership pathway.    

Values-in-action on the path

Upon reflecting on my own leadership pathway this past year, I recall how the pandemic caused a refocussing on the values of self-preservation and security. I realized the importance of taking care of myself as I navigated showing up for my team, made critical operational decisions, and dealt with zoom fatigue. For example, I initially committed to connecting daily with my team and colleagues on zoom. After months of long hours on zoom though, I sought different ways to connect. My favorite way was through going for walks while taking meetings on the phone. If I had just kept my zoom goal then I would have eventually failed, however, I held to my value of being self and found a way to still meet work needs with competence/confidence. Additionally, I considered how to take care of program needs and joined with others to collaboratively deal with critical challenges in the unfamiliar and emergent territory. As a result, I set short and long-term goals both personally and professionally, individually and with others, and then adjusted them as needed.

Furthermore, I appreciated being part of a university who also attended to self-preservation and security. The RRU leadership team mobilized to develop a clear COVID strategy ( which was rooted in the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and others using the campus. Yet the strategy didn’t stop there. Communication was clear, constant and reassuring. This type of communication (word) built upon self-preservation and security.

Reset your leadership pathway

A way to reset your leadership pathway is to take stock of your own values and see how they align with the leadership track. By considering a universal leadership pathway and tailoring it to your unique character, you are able to set strategic goals. If those goals are no longer workable, you can still be true to your path by surfacing your values and aligning with another goal in the current situation.  In this way, you will not lose sight when the terrain gets rocky or the times dark. You will not become disheartened by thinking you have failed to meet a specific resolution. You will remember the bigger path you are journeying upon and can follow that thread to carry on.


Barrett, R. (2017). The values-driven organization. Cultural health and employee wellbeing as a pathway to sustainable performance. (2nd Edition). Routledge.

Hall, B. (1994). Values shift: A guide for personal and organizational transformation. Twin Lights.

Hall, B. (n.d.). The Omega Factor: A Values-Based Approach for Developing Organizations and Leadership. Retrieved from:

Photo by Omid Armin on Unsplash