Catchwords for 2020 and beyond

Advent is a time of preparation. It is a time of anticipation. It is a time of reflection. 2020 was a year unlike any other most of us have experienced. My gift to you as you reflect, anticipate, and prepare are three words, catchwords for 2020 if you will, and for the next season…and the next. 

Catchwords or phrases become popular or fashionable for short periods of time. “You’re on mute” became the phrase on most everyone’s lips throughout the past year. If you weren’t saying it, it was being said to you…multiple times a day. That is one catch-phrase that I hope fades quickly. However, as I think back on the year and the lessons it holds, three words repeated themselves over and over. I am taking those three words into next year and the years beyond. 


The year started with the funeral services for my father. Dad passed during the Christmas Holidays in 2019. His passing, though not unexpected, hit me hard. We decided to delay services until after the holidays. As executor, the responsibility fell to me to plan, coordinate, and managed the services. I also delivered a eulogy on behalf of the family. Also, there was the work of handling his financial estate and all the detailed work that entailed. 

Layered on top of that was the normal demands of being an executive at a tech company. Multiple trips to the west coast as we kicked off our new year. Driving projects to completion. Working with clients and prospects. 

In the midst of that maelstrom of heartache and pain, I received a gift of a word. Pause. The note from a friend and co-worker spoke to my heart. 

I know the clashing feelings of relief that your loved one is no longer in pain and also missing them terribly.  And I know the bewilderment of watching the rest of the world breeze right along at an absurd pace while you are like, “Wait a minute, can we all pause, please.  This deserves a pause.” – Meaghan Shaffer

I hope you find time to pause.  This does deserve a pause.

Taking time to pause, to reflect, to rest is important for a leader at any time. In times of stress and chaos, it is paramount. 


For several years, I have been very intentional in sending happy birthday messages and congratulations on work anniversaries, new jobs, and promotions on LinkedIn. Many go unanswered, some get the obligatory “thank you” response, on the rare occasion the exchange creates a short dialogue. Melvin’s response was different. His response created a friendship well beyond a casual network connection. Melvin’s response ultimately gave me my second catchword of 2020, readiness. 

Thank you good Sir Jeff Ton! May the Universe keep shining upon us! I do wish that you, your family and love (sic) ones may be safe and healthy. My wishes and blessings from Puerto Rico to you Sir! – Melvin José Velázquez Feliciano

That response started a dialogue about the pandemic and its impacts on Puerto Rico. Barely a month into the lockdown in the continental U.S., I admitted to being a bit stir crazy, while he spoke of curfews, 900 sick and 100 dead, and civic discord against the restrictions. It was a “conversation” that went back and forth a half dozen times. 

Honestly, I could not have told you at the time, where and how Melvin and I came to be connected. We had been connected for a couple of years and this was our first message exchange on LinkedIn. As I dug into his profile, I became more and more intrigued. I read the blog post attached to his profile about his experience with Hurricane Maria. I had to know more. 

Days later we were on a Zoom call. Melvin told me the story of his community, devastated by hurricanes and earthquakes, and now a pandemic. He told me his story. The experience of surviving Hurricane Maria led him to volunteer with the Information Technology Disaster Resource Center (ITDRC), an organization I had never heard of, but one that provides information technology resources for areas impacted by natural disasters. 

“Without communication, there is no coordination. Without readiness, there is no communication.“  – Melvin José Velázquez Feliciano


Woven throughout the fabric of 2020 is one word. It raised itself on the tongues of so many, I can’t recall where it first made itself known to me. That word is “grace”. Grace, courteous goodwill. If ever we needed grace it was this year of the pandemic, the tensions brought about by our continuing issues with race and systemic racism, and, here in the U.S., the divisiveness of our politics. 

Probably because it was a primary source of communications for so many for so long, the word would show itself on a Zoom call. Dog barking in the next room? Grant grace. Do kids interrupt with a question about virtual school work? Give grace. Spouse accidentally Zoom-bombs an important call? Smile. Say “hello”. Provide grace. 

The word moved well beyond the humorous distractions on a video call. As I struggled with my reaction to my own inaction in the area of race and diversity. I knew I wanted to listen. to learn, and to grow. Throughout I was granted grace as I asked questions, sometimes hard questions. I was granted grace as I sometimes fumbled with the right words. 

Leading with pause, readiness, and grace

These catchwords for 2020 are more than just random catchwords. These words are words to add to the skill of a leader

As leaders, we must allow ourselves to pause, a pause to reflect certainly, but also a pause to rest. Whether it is the seemingly unprecedented times like we experienced in 2020, or it is the compounding stress of leading through “normal” chaos, we need to practice self-care. If we don’t, we will fail our teams and our followers at a time when they need us the most. 

Invest in readiness. Invest in the fundamentals. Organizations that do the fundamentals well are the organizations that are the most resilient. As Glenn Keller, chief information officer for CountryMark puts it, “no one wants to talk about strategy when the printers don’t work.” We don’t know what lies ahead. If we execute the basics well and consistently, we will execute them when faced with unknown challenges

Give grace freely and often. Yes, there is still accountability, but use the wisdom of discernment to understand intent. Give yourself grace. Give others grace. Use the opportunity to coach and teach if appropriate. The more often you offer grace, the more often you, yourself, will be given grace. In addition to the gift of grace you receive, you will receive the gift of respect. 

Adding pause, readiness, and grace to your leadership as catchwords for 2020 will enable you to lead through the challenges ahead. Your organization will thrive. Your organization will grow. The culture you create will enable your teams to blossom.

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Looking to amp up your audience and inspire them to grow as leaders?

Keynote speaker and best-selling author, Jeff Ton has been amplifying
audiences around the world for two decades. With deep experience as a
technology and business executive, he draws on his background to educate,
inspire, and entertain audiences large and small. Jeff authored Amplify Your
Job Search – Strategies for Finding Your Dream Job (2020) and Amplify
Your Value – Leading IT with Strategic Vision (2018). His insights have been
featured in Forbes, Huffington Post, Information Week, among others.

When his teenage dreams of becoming a rockstar collided with reality,
he traded his guitar for a computer keyboard and became a rockstar of
a different kind. After launching his career as a software developer, Jeff
became an industry-recognized leader and business executive, building
teams and leading organizations in the banking, consumer electronics, real
estate development, non-profit, and technology sectors.