Most people approached 2021 with a sense of optimism that this year would surely be better than last. It had to be, right? 

I think we can all agree that's a dangerous assumption. The world doesn't suddenly get better just because the calendar rolls over to a new year. At the same time, there are reasons to be optimistic. As the availability of Covid-19 vaccines becomes more widespread, it seems likely that we'll be able to get back to some version of normal in the relatively near future.

In an email to its customers, Delta's CEO, Ed Bastian, addressed just that, saying what we all hope is true--that "2021 is a year of opportunity."

You can read the entire email on Delta's website, but I wanted to unpack a few of the things Bastian wrote, since they contain valuable lessons for every business right now. 

Be Hopeful

"We're hopeful for an inflection point in the spring where the virus will be more contained, leading to the reopening of international borders and increased confidence in public life."

Hope is a powerful thing. While it's not always something we think of in the context of corporate communications, it's one of a leader's most important responsibilities. It's up to a leader to point in a direction and encourage her team toward that desirable outcome. That means convincing others that overcoming whatever stands between here and there is worth it.

After a year of stay-at-home orders, small businesses shuttered, layoffs, students attending school over Zoom, and missed holidays and birthdays--not to mention people who have been sick, and those who didn't make it this far through the pandemic--people could use a little hope. That goes for your team, your customers, and your community. 

Be Smart

"Amid the optimism, it is as important as ever to follow safety precautions to stop the spread."

The most dangerous place to be is close enough to see the finish line, but still too far away to cross it. When you can see the end, the temptation is to act as though you're already there. The problem is, we aren't there yet. 

That's especially dangerous when the race is against a highly contagious viral pandemic that has already taken the lives of more than 485,000 people. If you start acting like you've gotten past a pandemic before you've actually defeated it, you risk making things far worse. 

Bastian's suggestion is to keep pressing into all of the things we have learned so far to stay safe. Be smart about what you do between now and the finish line, so we can all get there together. 

Be Responsive

"We are committed to listening to you and having you guide our decision making throughout the recovery."

Finally, as you figure out what normal looks like for you and your business, remember that it may look different for others. It may look different for your team and even your customers. Your job is to listen to your stakeholders and plan the best way forward, balancing the needs of your business and your people. 

A warning--this can be tricky. Understand that knowing something has changed and knowing how it has changed aren't always the same thing. Discerning the difference means listening closely, not only to what people say, but what they need.

Being responsive means asking questions, offering options, and listening to feedback. Most of all, it means making decisions with all of your stakeholders in mind. In that sense, I think Bastian is absolutely right: 2021 is a perfect opportunity.