Professional Development

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Making Meaning of 2020: Four Powerful End-of-Year Activities for Leaders

2020 is almost over. And whether you've spent most of your time making bread or Zooming in bed, staring at a ceiling or working on healing, marching in the streets or indulging in sweets, rallying votes or collecting winter coats—this is a year we'll remember.

Characterized by sickness and loss, confusion and hard-to-even-comprehend change, 2020 has left an indelible mark on our hearts and on our world. We are not who we were before, as people or as a society. We must consider how our transformation, development, and growing edges will manifest and be optimized in the year to come.

For leaders, the end of this year offers an opportunity to go above and beyond traditional end-of-year rituals and reflection. In any December, it's good practice to consider successes and mistakes; to set goals and intentions; make amends and practice forgiveness. And in this December, I invite you to complete four final acts to close out 2020 with power and purpose, and enter the new year with a foundation that will withstand anything 2021 can throw at us.

1. Complete a Relationship Audit.

Everything we do at work is done in the context of relationships. Employees go the extra mile and even stay in jobs longer because they have strong relationships with leaders and colleagues. In 2020, professional relationships were challenged in many ways. Casual encounters and opportunities to talk about life were more limited. Technology makes it difficult to feel people's energy or to catch subtle cues when people might be experiencing discomfort, frustration, or even joy. And the conflation of home and work made it harder for people to fully focus their attention on either. All these changes to the way we interact with our colleagues and teams have impacted our relationships, and the end of the year gives us a chance to take stock of the strength of our human connections. A Relationship Audit is simple and helps us plan proactively to improve and deepen the relationships that help us do our best work and maximize our influence.

Step 1: Make a list of every person you supervise or every person with whom you work.

Step 2: Ask yourself the following questions for each person on the list:

  • What is my relationship like with this person?
  • What do I know about this person and his/her story?
  • What have I done recently to get to know this person, not just for what they do but for who they are?
  • What are the strengths and gifts of this person? What have I done to accentuate the good and use these gifts?

Step 3: Notice where there are gaps, consider if there are patterns that emerge relating to who your strongest (or weakest) relationships are with, and acknowledge how these gaps or patterns have impacted your work and/or leadership this year.

Step 4: Do the work of closing the gaps, disrupting harmful or problematic patterns, and deepening connections wherever possible.

2. Express Authentic Gratitude and Appreciation.

Come up with one meaningful way to make every person on your team feel valued and appreciated, not only for the work they've done, but also for who they are and the role they play as a human being on your team. Doing this effectively relies on us moving away from generic thank you cards and taking deliberate actions to personalize our gratitude and be specific about people's contributions and gifts. You might consider running a gratitude campaign with Reloveution, soliciting shout outs from your team to publicize within the company (transfer this free template to a form), recording a video "thank you" that includes specific staff recognition, or sending personalized emails or cards that make your people feel truly seen and special.

3. Bake P.I.E. with Your Team.

Real pie would be great and maybe it will be safe to bake together someday soon. But here, I am talking about creating intentional space for all team members to name, share, and plan around purpose, intentions and expectations. The end of the year offers us an opportunity to reset and recalibrate, to harken back to our personal "why" and to connect that core purpose with the North Star of our programs and/or organizations. All staff should have a strong purpose for their work, meaningful goals to strive towards, and a clear understanding of how they are expected to complete their roles and responsibilities.

The strongest leaders are not only aware of the purpose, intentions, and expectations for each member of their team, but also work diligently to help each person bake their P.I.E. This means nurturing goals, creating customized professional development plans, and advocating for opportunities for each person to reach their targets and be their best selves in the coming year. Consider holding a one-day retreat to do this work together or giving one hour of paid time for staff to work through these themes with a coach/mentor. In the end, it's up to leaders to set the oven temperature and create the conditions for award-winning desserts.

4. Celebrate and Experience Joy.

This year has been hard and although not all people experienced the same level of difficulty or suffering, we all need and deserve to celebrate our accomplishments; to applaud our big and small wins, and to identify the powerful moments when we were resilient, when we made something out of nothing, when we were survivors. We need and deserve time to experience authentic and unadulterated joy. What is a better time than right now? Consider hosting a winter-themed virtual game night for staff, or launching a friendly competition over a week (cake, cookie, or window decorating contests are super fun), or creating a video collage of everyone on your team sharing something they're grateful for. The activity doesn't matter as much as the laughter and human connection that comes with it.

Reloveution offers consulting and professional development services to help leaders and organizations strengthen their workplaces and build more effective leaders and more sustainable systems. We hope that you will become involved in our movement to transform the world of work for good. Learn more at, follow along on social media at @truereloveution, or reach out to me directly at We're cheering you on and would love to partner with you to create meaningful change!

Marissa Badgley, MSW, is the Founder of Reloveution and is on a mission to make work suck less. She is also an NAA Advocate Member.

Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.