GiftsCovid-19 tossed all of our lives into a tornado and we’re still figuring out where we’ll land.  It also shines a light on the need to be able to manage chaos and change, because, as Deborah Lee James, former Secretary of the Air Force told me on my podcast recently, “Whether we’re working in industry or government or in the nonprofit sector, change is a constant.”

Chaos, crisis and change also shake us out of complacency and forces us to see things with fresh eyes and make different choices – and that’s where the gifts lie.

Here are the best career tips of 2020 for managing change from my guests this year:

Managing chaos, crisis and change is about being able to innovate – your career, your skills, your perspective, your operations, your team, your products, your business model, your budget, everything.  So, here’s a look at the top career tips of 2020 through the lens of the Innovator’s DNA (designed by the late Dr. Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School): observe, question, associate, network, and experiment.


  • Observe – Know thyself: Step one in any review of your career or life circumstances is to “look yourself in the mirror,” as Secretary James put it, and the forced isolation of the pandemic gave us a unique opportunity to do so.  How did you spend your time? Did you binge-watch Netflix all day or use it to complete projects?

Another critical way to increase your self-knowledge is to, “Pay attention to the people around you, and listen to what they see in your career,” Dr. Robin Currey, head of the Sustainable Food Systems program at Prescott College told me.  That is, notice which projects and jobs people asked you to do or paid you to do, and how they introduced you to other people. It gives you insight into where people see your professional value.

  • Question – Assume nothing: Secretary James reminded us to keep asking questions, to get the facts, the data, including from unconventional sources. For example, to manage a crisis that potentially put millions of lives at risk, she met privately with the frontline staff, purposely without their officers or any other staff. That’s where she obtained the most valuable, unvarnished, and actionable information enabling her to make lasting change.

To understand what drives women to achieve, my firm conducted an in-depth survey this year and we found out that these women are driven by: power (influence), status (recognition), curiosity (learning), and idealism (making a difference).

  • Associate – Connect things:  Covid-19 has certainly forced us to connect dots differently. Joni Carswell, CEO of Texan By Nature (a nonprofit started by former First Lady Laura Bush) said, “Look out at your path, at your history and the things that you think don’t have anything to do with one another… And, use those different ways that you’ve seen the world to solve problems…Because you have the single unique way of looking at a puzzle that no one else does.”

listMSNBC legal analyst and former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks’ suggests make a list of all the skills you used in past jobs, indicating which you loved and those you disliked, and then look for jobs that maximize the skills you enjoy and minimize those you don’t.

  • Network – People matter: “The best leaders, particularly during periods of change, are people-first leaders,” Secretary James said. “People are going to make it or break it for an organization. They can slow roll things, or they can facilitate things.“ To bring people along, she suggested, “they have to understand …Why am I important to this equation and how am I contributing to the whole?

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James answers troops' questions at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan 2014”No matter what level you’re at, there’s always office politics, or what Dr. Jennifer Wisdom calls “the game that’s being played,” even in a virtual world. She said, “It’s who gets the plum assignments…and how everyone talks to each other…(and) it’s enormous in women’s advancement.”  She gave several tips, such as, “if you’re working with someone who makes you feel like you’re not good enough, there’s something else going on.”

  • Experiment – “Just do it!” “I would recommend exploring ways to bring that knowledge (in your core competence) to a new area, a new firm, a new venue, sort of bridging, “ Dr. Corinne Post of Lehigh University told me. “By bringing a content area into a new field, into a new place…(or) to a new area it can be very rewarding because…you have the opportunity to learn, and to make an impact.”

Brenda Darden Wilkerson, CEO of Anita on the Grace Hopper Conference stage, “Work from where you are….You can work within an organization to do amazing things,“ Brenda Darden Wilkerson, CEO of and the renowned Grace Hopper Conference, suggested. “Be willing to be an intrapreneur.”

Wherever you are, seize opportunities. “It’s time (for women) to pick our heads up and look around the executive realm and really think broadly about how big our impact can be,” Coco Brown told me. “Don’t underestimate your value.”

Or, as Katie Sloan of Southern California Edison put it, “Don’t ask for permission, just do it.”

(You can listen to all these interviews on my podcast Green Connections Radio and anywhere you listen to podcasts.)

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