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Pivoting Well in Life and Leadership—Five Truths

Updated: May 18, 2020

For the past few years instead of making new year resolutions, I’ve been picking a “word for the year” that I apply to both my personal growth and my work life.  I’ve had words like, “present” and “intentional,” and even “fun” for a year when I had observed my intensity needed some balancing. Sometimes the word I feel impressed to adopt for the year makes sense and sometimes it seems totally random.  Regardless, by the middle of the year I usually start to see how I really need the word in ways that go beyond what I was thinking.

This year my word fell into the latter category.  It made no sense to me and if I’m honest, it made me mad.  My word is pivot If you knew the past few years of my work and personal life then you’d know that I’ve already been pivoting regularly as a leader, so why on earth would I need to pivot again? 

This was my thinking on December 29th as I wrestled with accepting this would be my 2020 word. 

Everyone else I knew had words like vision, clarity, focus and here I was with pivot. 

In January, my nine-year-old daughter, Ella, brought out her rock painting set from Christmas.  I figured I would paint the word pivot on a rock and maybe I would like it more.  To me the word just looked ugly and I still didn’t get or like it. 

As the President of a non-profit, I have seen a lot of pivoting.  What started as a one-time event for women in South Florida, soon became a fast-growing, start-up organization taking our event to 21 cities in seven years. In 2017, we made a big pivot when we merged with a larger organization to help with our growing systems and financial needs. 

While on paper it all made sense, if you’ve ever been part of a merger you know they are not simple, easy or painless.  In mid-2019 the board decided a demerger was best and agreed to help us get up running as our own non-profit again. Yet another pivot and a lot of heartache and expense. So, you can see why I didn’t like the thought of having the word pivot as my word for the year.

Who could have predicted that just two months after our successful relaunch in January the whole world would be pivoting to address the challenges of a global pandemic?  Suddenly, I realized that I had been prepared for this season with a God-given “heads-up” in December.

While I didn’t know the meaning then, our team was able to pivot and we completely went from in person experiences to online experiences in three weeks.  Was it easy, no; was it worth it; absolutely! 

I can honestly say that the pivots are making us better and I believe our best days are ahead.  I am also seeing my own need to make personal and leadership pivots faster and without worry for how I will look or perform.  I know the word pivot is not something I would have ever come up with myself, but I am resting in the adventure of leading in uncertainty, knowing these pivots were predestined and I just have to do the next right thing.  

Here are some things I am learning to lean into when it comes to pivoting in this season.  While our circumstances may be different, these principles are available for anyone.  And conveniently they fall into the word PIVOT.  Which makes me smile, even though I still don’t like the word.  

Prayer—Regardless your faith tradition, I believe taking a time out to look to something outside yourself is a key to pivoting well.  In times of crisis I take great courage that I’m not running the world and I am not responsible for all the problems in the world.  I am responsible for myself, my family, my commitments and my organization.  I can bring the things I do have control over to God and ask for what I need.  Sometimes it may just be the patience to wait for the right decision or the courage to have a conversation I don’t want to have.  Prayer proceeds a pivot and allows me to walk with dignity and discernment into an unknown future.

Invest—Pivoting requires us to look at what we have in our storehouse and where we can invest.  Often times a pivot requires a reallocating of resources, but it may also mean a removal of something good to protect what is better.  I have found it helpful before making a pivot to list what resources I have to help me, what resources I have that I need to deploy or let go of, and finally, what resources I need to add to make the pivot.  Seeing what you have through the lens of investing helps the leader make hard decisions and also embrace opportunities with limited resources.

Vision—A friend of mine says we should never waste a perfectly good crisis.  While a crisis is generally negative and causes pain, it can also reveal what is really happening and help us reconnect with what we should be about.  This can be for a company or for your personal life.  The book of Proverbs says “Without a vision people perish.”  Without a vision, businesses can fail, people lose hope, families divide, and whole countries can come to ruin.  With a vision, people have the hope they need to persevere through the hard times, learn new skills, collaborate to survive and find the essentials that made you great.  Vision is not something the leader can delegate.  The leader must lead with vision or a pivot will struggle to survive.

Opportunity—In times of crisis there is loss but there is also great opportunity.  Whether it’s a failed product, the sudden death of a loved one, or an economic downturn, we are always being invited to see where the opportunities are in the midst of the hard.  In this season we were going to be launching our organization with a big gathering in Austin, Texas but, instead we had to cancel our events and look for the opportunity.  A few weeks ago, we were able to host an online broadcast that reached 4X the amount of people we had originally expected to attend since it was online.  In times of pivoting, opportunities are there—you just have to see them and know when to act.

Timing—Finally, timing is everything.  While we may have vision and opportunity, in times of pivoting the leader must seek to get the timing right.  Our team could not do all the ideas at once.  My job as the leader is to pace the team for the long winter season facing us financially and the emotionally long season ahead for the women we are serving.  Knowing what to do isn’t always clear, but quickly pivoting at the right time has been incredibly important.            

I recently learned that pivoting is also a dance term. Just like a dance is better with others, experiencing a pivot is a joy when you pivot with others by your side.  Don’t waste this incredible opportunity to pivot together and help create an even better future as you pray, invest, vison, embrace opportunity and discern the timing for a new, and God willing, better normal.

Julie Wilson, President at Women Doing Well

About Julie:

For the past 25 years, Julie has been a visionary strategist and communication specialist. After graduating with a degree in journalism from Boston University, she landed the highly competitive job as an NBC Page in New York City, the same year she became a follower of Christ through the ministry of Redeemer Presbyterian Church. She spent 13 years as a start-up team builder with Priority Associates, mostly in New York City, and most recently was VP of Communication and served on the executive leadership team for Generous Giving. Today, as President of Women Doing Well, she leads a team to activate generosity in women of influence. Julie and her husband, Gary, live in Richmond, Virginia, with their daughter, Ella.


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