2020 was a strange year. It was a year full of ups and downs, surprises, frustrations, self-realizations, and more.

In the startup world, everyone frequently gives this analogy of having to figure out how to make a parachute mid-air after being dropped from a flight without a parachute. That was 2020 for me and I am sure it was the same for many of you out there.

COVID-19 has forced us to adapt. It has taught us that we do not need many of the things in life that we used to think we needed under the disguise of being social animals. We do not need to go out and about every day. We do not need to splurge on fancy dinners all the time. While having face-to-face interactions would have been great, we could build caring relationships over calls even with the video off. It also taught us the feeling of having to work with someone that you’ve never met and having that “aha” moment when you can finally put a face to the voice.

On a personal level, this was a year full of learnings for me. This was the year where I get to fully understand what “leadership” and “management” really means. I never was one that knew how to communicate or demonstrate emotions. While that used to work before, I learned that it no longer works especially when everyone is under stress from the threat of a global pandemic. Humans are emotional beings. We are always looking for someone to speak to because we want their emotions to be heard. We want to be empathized, sympathized, taken care of, and more. We want to feel connected to others. We want to be a part of something larger than ourselves. When we are sitting in front of our screens for 365 days, that became really challenging which puts many of us under more stress that we are supposed to have.

My most valuable learning for 2020 is emotional leadership. It became more important than ever before to display emotions, to listen, to demonstrate care with actions, to provide clarity despite all the uncertainty, and to provide assurance. As leaders, it is our job to face our deepest fears and overcome them as others are depending upon us to make the right decision. It is our job to provide direction, to assure, and to solve problems even if we, ourselves, are not clear about the future.

The most difficult period of 2020 was when I had to make a call on expense cuts including pay cuts affecting everyone in the organization. It was a decision that took weeks of preparation emotionally and still was a hard conversation. The silence that came after announcing it in a team-by-team calls probably was the most awkward and the most silent silence that I have ever experienced. Even when everyone’s cameras were off, I could imagine the expressions and the adrenaline. While it is hard to be on the receiving side of the table, it is as difficult to be the one making the call. The feeling that you have let everyone down is one that is difficult to swallow. While being a leader is to be able to understand everyone’s needs and wants and to overcome your personal challenges, being a manager is to be able to execute a pathway that is for the greater good and to communicate effectively on why that pathway was chosen. At the end of the day, we must learn to accept that it is part of “management” to make decisions will lead to discomfort and frustration.

At the end of the tunnel, there was indeed “light”. We came out stronger as individuals, and as an organization. Probably, the best thing out of 2020 is that we had time on our hands to reflect deeply about our own actions and to think carefully about the future.

2021 — Onward and upward!

Forbes 30 Under 30 / Founder at nexlabs / FinTech / Digital Transformation / Experience Design / Myanmar