How Can Executives Hit The Ground Running In 2021?

Successful female executive

As a leader, you probably had your fair share of unpredictable challenges in 2020. You also likely learned some difficult lessons—lessons you should keep in mind as you plan for the coming year.

In order to hit the ground running in 2021, leaders need to be intentional with their time and align their actions with any goals they may have. Here's some advice from fellow executives on how to find success in 2021.

​Steve Barriault, Global Technology Sales Leader

Executive plans for success in 2021


Well, if you haven't thought about your yearly planning, I have news for you: you are late to the party! So, between opening your presents and celebrating the ball drop, you may want to put something together.

2020 has been a "very special year" and we begin 2021 with several unknowns. But here's what we do know: we have vaccines, they are efficacious, and they are coming within months.

Besides this, we do not know how long the vaccine will last (based on the news I am following, it will be at least six months) or whether a vaccinated person can still be a spreader. These are the two big unknowns, and they will condition how 2021 will play out.

So, this year, you need to have three plans. The first one runs through March—around the time when nonpriority adults may begin to be vaccinated.

The second is running until September. By then, a significant portion of the population is likely to be vaccinated (so herd immunity kicks in).

The third is for the remainder of the year.

Work your way backward. Decide how the end of the year should look for you. Have a growth objective that is ambitious yet achievable.

Then, decide what needs to happen to meet these objectives. Do you need additional marketing investments (website, social media, trade shows)? If that growth comes, will you need more staff—and how long do you need them in advance of the "bulge" so they are fully effective?

Don't initially rule out anything because "COVID-19 changed the world." We have no idea what the world will look like, just like we had no idea about the world's status in December 2020 back in January 2020.

Then, distribute these actions in your three plans depending on whether they are doable immediately, in two months, or potentially in six months, based on your best guess.

Say you stated in your plan that sales representatives could benefit from extra training and that Q1 may be less busy than usual. Well, how about delivering that training in January then? This way, when activities pick up, they are "locked and loaded." Keep in mind, this April they may get pretty busy!

Obviously, you won't be able to schedule trade shows or conferences right away. Perhaps some application engineers are also less busy than usual. How about having them team up and come up with a few white papers in the interim?

There are many ways you can temporarily shift activities to prepare for additional actions that need to happen once the dust settles. Underemployed employees are unhappy, and keeping everyone focused on getting things done will do wonders for morale and the bottom line.

What you don't want to happen is to be left scrambling when things finally start opening up. It's time to prepare the crew to hit the ground running now.

Steve Barriault is a global technology sales executive with 18+ years of experience in business development on three continents. He is currently serving in a 3,000 employee-strong company providing embedded software testing solutions in multiple industries such as automotive, avionics, industrial systems, telecom, and others. Multilingual, he holds advanced degrees in business, science, and computer science.

​​​Dr. Jan Urbahn, Automotive & Shared Mobility Executive

Female executive goes over her plan for 2021 with a colleague


State of the Nation

How can executives, or anyone, hit the ground running in 2021? Current research studies suggest that at least 70% of employees are showing symptoms of PTSD, 85% of employees with a job are looking for a new job, only 20% of employees believe that their companies' actions during this crisis are aligned with their values, and less than 20% of managers feel supported in this difficult time. This bleak picture involves all ranks from intern to CEO.

Your Dual System Head

Let's look at the two systems that you were given by nature to make decisions: the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. The amygdala are two small almond shaped regions in the middle of your head, that are involved with the "Fight or Flight" response, and as recent research shows, also with tagging emotional memories for storage in your brain. It's also the first level system involved with making decisions. The prefrontal cortex sits in the frontal lobe and is associated with higher-level decision making.

Bear or Not

A basic example shows how the two systems are functioning together. We may take a walk and suddenly hear a noise from the side and that may trigger any association: a coyote, a bear, some danger. That is the amygdala triggering and preparing the body for fight or flight. Now our brain reaches out to the prefrontal cortex that actually is able to look at the facts presented. In this example, we see that there is no danger, and our body is calming down again. Recent research shows that anxiety is breaking down that communication link between amygdala and prefrontal cortex. If we are exposed to a lot of stress and anxiety, like we are this year, and the amygdala is running the brain for the most part, this leads to the currently observed levels of exhaustion.

Strengthen Your Brain-Superhighway

To hit the ground running in 2021, one thing you can do is to train your mind to access your prefrontal cortex more often and thus improve your mindset and intrinsic motivation. My personal recommendation is to consider daily Transcendental Meditation, which is strengthening the bridges in your brain for more coherence. There is a great YouTube video with Howard Stern and Jerry Seinfeld discussing the benefits they received from their meditation practice.


Executive management is a high-performance sport, and any of these steps will help you in 2021:

  1. Eat well and try to reduce sugar and alcohol intake. Vegetables and greens contain important nutrients that support our body.
  2. Exercise well. Even moderate exercise like a 30-minute walk is beneficial.
  3. Play well. Many games can strengthen cognitive functioning. Consider not playing on your phone or online. Instead, for example, put a Jigsaw puzzle together or build a Lego set.
  4. Plan well. Consider the Pareto principle, that 20% of your actions are creating 80% of your results. Which are the 20% of your most effective actions? If you focus on these, you are freeing up capacity for new initiatives in the new year.

OKR Your Goals

Objectives and key results (OKR) have helped Google grow and so it can also help you achieve your goals in 2021. Don't look at the list above and try to do everything at once. Instead, you could set up a plan for next year with objectives and review them every quarter. For example, if you eat mostly pizza and burgers and want to improve your nutrition, your objective (O) could be "Improve my eating in 2021." Your Q1 key result (KR) could be to "research healthy eating and pick some favorites." The Q2 key result could be to "find some recipes for favorites." The Q3 key result could be to "eat vegetables once per month." The Q4 key result could be to eat vegetables once per week." Even such a slow plan will give you a sense of achievement and purpose, which will have a positive influence on all your other activities in the new year.

Dr. Jan Urbahn is an automotive executive with 20+ years of experience in product development, safety engineering, and operations in automotive and shared mobility business. He helped launch 3 new businesses with up to 1,500 shared cars in fleet size. His most recent leadership position is within the shared mobility space, where he helped develop a new EV battery and guided the coronavirus response.

We hope this advice helps you take action in 2021 and reach your potential as a leader. Find out what works for you. Even if the circumstances prevented you from achieving your goals in 2020, this year is a fresh start. Create a plan and hit the ground running!

Ready to take your executive presence to the next level? Check out Work It Daily's Executive Presence Program today!

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