Will We Choose to Just Survive or Will We Choose to THRIVE?

–Metrics that Matter (Part 2)

Looking at the world through the lens of business we can easily expand our focus to the ripple effect a thriving business sector has on our society. The pandemic, on the other hand, has provided a glimpse of the negative impact on our business sector.


Metrics That Matter (Part 1): Will We Choose Transformation or Stagnation?

The spread of the virus throughout the world has not only struck down individuals, but the resulting quarantine has wiped out thousands of previously prosperous businesses leaving them gasping for air or completely obliterated.  Humanity has pushed its limits this year, much like a teenager looking to see where the boundaries are as they strive to gain control of their lives amidst the internal chaos of puberty.

As I reflect on the landscape personally and professionally, I wrestle with several questions, but they can all be summed up with this; Can we find answers that will give birth to a new way of thinking, a new way of doing, and most importantly, a new way of being?

This experience has forced all of us to test the standard “NOs” from the past and we have found that many of them were not valid.  When we examine the way businesses have shifted, accommodated, and pivoted to survive we can see the truth and recognize that what we were told to accept as truths were myths to keep the top-down, command-and-control systems in place.  For example, we have found that there are workarounds that allow more people than ever to work remotely and yes, they are still productive, despite the challenges.  We have learned that we can treat employees as whole human beings, rather than treating them as one-dimensional worker-bees, mandated to focus entirely on productivity metrics and numbers, all the while denying the existence of a personal life.

In some circles, we have begun to create safe spaces for meaningful dialogue and difficult conversations to try to better understand one another.

This year, we witnessed our shared humanity every time we were on a video conference with someone’s home in the background and their pet entered the camera view, or their toddler innocently entered demanding attention. The images have permeated the media, all the ads that have incorporated Zoom calls, our tv shows with masks on all of the actors, and of course the nightly news with the details about the constant need for PPE (an acronym for Personal Protection Equipment that most of us were unfamiliar with until now.)  Yes, this year has brought many new or formerly hidden realities into the spotlight. Many (though not yet enough, in my opinion), have taken a stand against systemic discrimination and prejudice within our society.  In some circles, we have begun to create safe spaces for meaningful dialogue and difficult conversations to try to better understand one another. I believe there is a growing awareness of the gifts that diversity and inclusion bring to our lives, though surely, we have a long way to go on the road to embracing our differences and celebrating them together.

Fine-tuning our understanding of the metrics that define the differences between failure, survival, and flourishing in business speaks directly to those same measures in our society.  If we recognize the opportunities before us to evaluate our circumstances and consciously make choices with intention, I believe we will make progress.  The solution to our resilience both personally and professionally lies in expanding our awareness and the depth of our knowledgebase.  Beginning with an authentic desire to understand, not only the numbers or financial outcomes in business but also to understand the dynamics of the interpersonal relationships within our workplaces. If this experience has taught us to broaden our definition of a “good employee” beyond the standard adjectives “productive, achieves designated outcomes, etc.” then I believe we have not walked through these very tough times in vain.  By using equal doses of compassion, empathy, and awareness of our responsibility as we lead teams in this new age, we can look beyond achievement to strive for values-driven meaning, purpose, and quality of life.

When I was given the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder, I did not make room for considering that leading might be different than doing.

As I reflect on this, I realize that I have learned so much this past year from the Millennial and Gen Z teams that I have coached.  I have seen that they care deeply about maintaining quality and purpose in their lives, their whole lives, not just their weekends and vacations but their daily experience at work.  The teams I have been engaged with are multi-cultural, multi-national, and of like-mind when it comes to productivity and FUN!  As a woman on the cusp between Boomers and Gen Xers, I have seen and accepted a different workplace for much of my corporate experience.  When I was given the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder, I did not make room for considering that leading might be different than doing. It seems pretty straightforward from where I sit now, but at the time it was not a consideration.  It embarrasses me to admit that considering whether my team was happy or fulfilled in their work-life was not on my radar at all.  It was more about hitting the marks and keeping those upstairs happy than it was about the quality of the employee experience.

As I think about it, I had been promoted because I did my job well, not because I was good at developing others, which I believe was and is a common experience for over-achievers. Couple that with being a female in a company with 42 Regional Sales Managers nationwide, 2 of whom were female! At 27, I was not about to rock the boat.  My mantra was, simple, be professional and try not to draw attention to the fact that you are the only woman in the room.  I was given the targeted outcomes but as far as how to get there with a team instead of flying solo, well I was on my own to figure that out.  Sure, there were a couple of high school and college leadership experiences and a few books to help in defining my own take on the role, but sadly those did not lead me to consider my role as anything but the scorekeeper for the team both individually and collectively.  I did not realize at the time that leading a team is the opposite of what I had excelled at…  I was a fixer, give me a problem and I will give you a solution, but help someone to develop the necessary skills to see their own solutions?

Wow, I am almost embarrassed to type that!  But then I have spent some time considering my path and have focused on stepping away from blaming and shaming.  As a result, I will accept that I did the best with what I had at the time and there was no malice intended.  Today given the same circumstance I would handle it differently.  I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to learn and practice a more successful way to lead!  Maybe we were busy fighting a different workplace battle in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s?  The glass ceilings in title and salary, and the quid pro quo of sexual innuendo from the good ole boys’ clubs, which is thankfully now illegal and labeled as sexual harassment. I can say that we have come a long way as I look back at those battles.

Today, as part of that let us just say “more experienced” generation, we have the opportunity to choose to be “teachable” and to embrace the ideas and perspectives these new generations bring to the workplace.

  • Are we willing to choose to be open?
  • Did this past year challenge us to evaluate what we have accepted in the past to remain employed?
  • Are we looking more deeply at our level of happiness and fulfillment in our current position?


Catherine Fitzgerald
Catherine Fitzgerald
Catherine is the founder of Brass Tacks With Heart - executive coaching. She is an experienced senior executive, leader, speaker, writer, board member, and passionate coach.  She’s served in many leadership capacities throughout her life, both personally and professionally.  Catherine’s 35-yr-career has spanned a variety of industries from banking to health insurance and from choral music to feeding the hungry. Her proven track record of developing people, performance, and profits has made her keenly aware that all three elements are essential to building a successful business. Today, Catherine is a coach for heart-centered founders and executives of growing midsize companies. She helps leaders develop new ways to communicate that free them from the burden of holding mental accountability for every area of their business. No longer the HUB, her clients discover the key to unlocking and scaling their business with a process that fuels their lives, not consumes them. Catherine loves spending time with family whenever she can. She grew up in Central California’s San Joaquin Valley, graduated from UCLA, and is the mother of three grown sons.  She enjoys cooking, traveling, walking her pup, and recently, she’s learning to enjoy E-mountain biking, and extreme snowmobiling.  She is a member of the board of directors for Inspiration Travel Foundation, a nonprofit serving other non-profit organizations internationally, and for the Fresno County Women’s Chamber of Commerce.

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  1. “Out of adversity comes opportunity” one of my my favourite quotes of all time. Catherine your essay is a perfect example of the realisation of this quotation. You cite many trials and tribulations that you and I know many others faced and still face on both the career and life’s journey. The exemplary thing about your writing is you demonstrate how you have, and others could, multiply the benefits and divide the cost, whilst taking the opportunity to neuter gender bias, in fact any sort of prejudice. That for me is intelligence meeting opportunity. Your hypothesis highlights the need for both business and people to consider how we behave and move forward. We all know we will have to adapt to a totally new way of living and working post pandemic. I think is is a challenge to business leaders and individuals alike, to look more closely at the needs of others and how those needs can be facilitated. Particularly in business and people development, for example, where you so eloquently described your first experience of real leadership, burdened with the challenge of a male dominated ‘senior executive’ team, you proved you were as effective and productive as your senior male colleagues, but no one had had the foresight to coach and mentor you through the inevitable challenges that only come with experience and guidance.
    Perhaps our so called “thought leaders” would benefit from reading your article. I know those that do will certainly do so.

    Thanks for sharing, I will be sharing this with a number of friends, colleagues and connections who would benefit from reading of your experiences.

    • Christopher, I am humbled and overcome by your gracious and encouraging thoughts. Thank you very much. It means so much to know that my experiences can serve to encourage others. I love your summary. “The exemplary thing about your writing is you demonstrate how you have, and others could, multiply the benefits and divide the cost, whilst taking the opportunity to neuter gender bias, in fact any sort of prejudice. That for me is intelligence meeting opportunity. Your hypothesis highlights the need for both business and people to consider how we behave and move forward.”

      Christopher you made my day!

  2. The article and the comments are all shareable and offer a topic for discussion.
    With all the pain and effects of covid-19 in every sector, I wonder if the pandemy is not to be considered a sort of anticipation of the future, something that never before made us reflect on global warming, on economic inequalities, on the functioning and destiny of our cities, on our way of working, on our mobility and on gender differences.
    These months have also taught us that we can learn from disasters, to start again with more awareness. People have had to change perspective to live everyday life, generating completely different attitudes, behaviors and habits than in the past, and they have succeeded mainly thanks also to technology. Evenings closed at home have been also a way to get together. We have been forced to pay more attention to the other, to communicate more reflective.
    Our task, of all, is to try to understand, what we must do “after”, how to best develop the universal bond between peoples, how to support the weakest and lonely people, how to radically change the relationship with this planet. These are the thoughts we want to cultivate together, so that the hardships and sufferings that have united us all in these months have not passed in vain and guide us to build a better existence for all. This is not at all obvious, but it is that to which we must actively dedicate ourselves immediately. So, let’s help ourselves to become aware of the situation and to know how to read the signs of the times; we welcome the indications of civil and religious authorities to live this critical moment in the most appropriate way; let propose personal and community gestures that favor a style of true justice and authentic peace, with respect for nature.

    • Aldo, you nailed it! Fabulous thoughts and what I hope we can stir in all the circles we touch. I believe it is only in the rearview mirror that we can truly define the subtext or the purpose for certain things. What they spawn as a byproduct often becomes the most meaningful piece of historic shifts in our world order. I agree we must act with a sense of urgency to bring forth change that fosters sustainability not only as a planet but as humans. Many of us get a glimpse of our insignificance within the context of the world as well as our powerlessness as individual humans when we face a cancer diagnosis, for example. We grapple for control of our world, our mere existence. We bargain, we barter and we beg for life. Here many have faced that battle with COVID, but unlike an individual journey with cancer when only those who know you may be affected, this is global. It is an issue that has touched us all, simultaneously, which provides the gravity and hopefully the urgency we need to take action, be intentional, and choose how we evolve. This evolution needs to be made with new more globally conscious considerations, considerations that in the past we have foregone, allowing ourselves to be taken with the currents, like in the rapids of a swift-flowing river.

      Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts!

  3. A lot of good stuff for discussion here, Catharine.

    I can relate to your experience of flying by the seat of our pants into management roles. I learned that I was super as a consultative manager but not very skilled/patient for those that needed more guidance than that. Not good for them and not good for me. Although many young men from the boomer generation were scarred for life by their experiences in the armed forces, those with leadership potential had already gotten a lot of training that i believe we tend to underestimate as a rung on the corporate ladder. Training that at that time was fairly closed to women (and still is, unless they are willing to put up with sexual harassment.)

    Much positive has been said for reverse mentoring where leaders teach younger employees what they know and in return the younger party teaches tech skills, modern mindset, and above all, gives an excuse to readapt to a learning mindset. The outcome – mutual respect across generational divides – is just as important as what is learned.

  4. This was interesting Catharine. My hope is that for many people coming out of this experience is that they realize the power of teamwork. The community where I live is populated mainly with ‘more experienced’ people. They all don’t know each other but when they were out in public they were always conscious of others, of keeping their distance and of always protecting themselves and the people they came close to. But I could definitely feel the ripple effect that it was having with the young people in my community. And as a resuly we have fared very well through this pandemic. By the end of next month we should all be vaccinated, and hopefully carry that sense of social responsibility with us into other areas.

    • Loved your comment, Jim, that to me spoke not only about team work but even more about the power of setting norms for prosocial behavior. Although we think younger people don’t look at us experienced folks, they do. (And when we are angry and self righteous, they see that, too.)

    • Jim, Thank you for sharing your perspective. I agree this pandemic has really impacted our natural instincts to be friendly and to help each other in favor of self-preservation. The isolation has had a deep impact on mental health and the need for personal interaction has certainly been center-court. I, too, an hopeful that the instances of people stepping forward and helping one another will help to bring us together as communities to support each other better in the future.

      Charlotte, Very true statement. Children watch and learn better by what we do than what we say. Powerful.