The definition of culture is “the art and manifestation of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively,” or “to maintain tissue, cells or bacteria, in conditions suitable for growth.” Both definitions seem to apply for 2020, which many have said they cannot wait until it is over! I guess I have learned to appreciate adversity over the years, knowing I will always come out stronger because of it. This is what this year is truly about for those who made the list of ‘Best Places to Work’ and those who may not have made it, yet did not quit. The desire is what counts. The perseverance it takes to keep getting back up and trying again.

Peter Drucker asked an interesting question that fits these times. “What are examples where disequilibrium can be used to accelerate the process of learning in your life and organization?”

Len Schlesinger said, “The traditional way of thinking our way into acting is rendered essentially useless. Action trumps everything.” He believes that, “entrepreneurial activity, steeped in experiential learning, can transform the way leaders move forward in the face of unpredictability.”

That explains this year for many of us. We have tested the limits of our strength as leaders and teams. When I think of my employees, I visualize their top button loosened, their ties pulled just enough, to see them with superhero symbols on their chests underneath their work suits, as they race through the offices with toddlers under their arms and laptops in hand or moms with babies in their laps as they are typing a presentation. This year feels like a cartoon, yet it is our new reality — at least for a while.

Virtual shifts have shaped our future. While it may not change everything, it has added to our resources. Luckily, we were right where we needed to be with HRIS systems for benefit enrollments, webinars to replace our face-to-face presentations to employees, and the ability to be nimble and quick.

In the healthcare roundtable I read about how CIGNA has 70,000 employees working from home. No matter what the scale, we were ready. Our industry, insurance and healthcare turned on a dime. Hospitals and doctors have been challenged beyond measure, beefing up to save lives, prevent continued disease, and easing mental health issues, bringing great applause for their heroic efforts.

Schlesinger also said, “Leaders hungry to stay ahead of the curve are invited to unlock this entrepreneurial code for themselves and shore up their ministries or organizations for success, regardless of what the future may bring.”

That fits perfectly for today. We’re ready – with energy and shapeshifting and blasters in hand to shed light onto our employees and inspire them to carry on, and have hope for the future. This is culture. No matter what the complaints in the halls are, when tested by adversity and possible loss, when culture remains strong, the “bad guys” are destroyed. Gratefulness and focus on our mission are what take us into the future. We have been giving gratefulness challenges and providing resources for employees to give back to our clients by furthering their mission, which is our mission. They have given of their time and their own resources with enthusiasm and smiles on their faces. This is culture.

This year has changed businesses on the heels of great success when boom, the year pivoted to hardship and closed doors for many. Others scaled up and provided the necessary resources to help get us though this. One client was hired to open stores and then had to board up the same day after the killing of George Floyd. Another called (at first) to discuss canceling their insurance because cleaning kitchens for restaurants seemed fruitless. But then the spark of creation happened and they completely changed their name and operations to cleaning and sterilizing essential businesses, schools, assisted living facilities and more. Meanwhile, schools segued to on-line teaching and clothing manufactures added masks to their lines. The best companies have heroes that work within them. Our people are our soul. The stress lines reduced with spending more time with family.

We are leaders and we must share our beliefs with our employees to lead them through these times so the doom of the end of the world will be replaced with, not a sequel, but the first episode…and living it rather than watching it pass us by, taking everything for granted.

Let’s take this experience and make it ours — as our favorite lesson on how to succeed in adversity with superhero symbols on our chests, defeating this tough year with great success!

Danone Simpson, MBA, GBDS, is CEO of Montage Insurance Solutions. Learn more at

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