A year ago we celebrated International Women’s Day at Cisco. We were beginning to realise that our lives were about to change but we had no idea how dramatic that change would be, nor how long this crisis would last. All of us have had to make big adjustments to our daily lives. There’s no doubt that life has been tough and we have all had to find our own ways of coping with a different way of living. Of course it’s a challenge to stay positive as people we know are becoming seriously ill, lives are being lost, and the future is so uncertain. It’s difficult to deal with so much disruption all at once. How do we find ways to move from just about coping to thriving in this environment?

Here are some things that have worked for me:

  • A time-machine. I am someone who needs to look forward to the future with hope. Years ago as a student facing big exams, I was sometimes daunted by the amount of work that I had to do and the pressure that brought. The coping mechanism I developed then was to imagine the day in the future when the last exam was done and that helped me to manage the stress and the pressure of the moment. I still do that when I have a big presentation to give or a heavy week ahead of me. I imagine how I’ll feel when it’s done and I think about what I will do next. Visualising a time when it’s all behind you helps me to keep going. I find myself doing that again now during the pandemic and it still helps me. One day all of this will be over – and I will be more than ready.
  • I’m a person who likes structure and I need to know where I am now and where I am going next. A framework really helps me to understand the situation. As the pandemic took hold, we were all just dealing with what needed doing in the moment – getting everyone home safely, looking after our families and figuring out what we could still do and what we needed to change. Early on my boss, Gerri Elliott, shared a framework which I found incredibly useful in giving this some structure. It identified 4 phases to the crisis that we would need to work through – the 4 R’s: Respond, Reflect, Re-imagine and Rebound. For me this really made sense. It helped me understand where we are in the process, what’s coming next and it helped me to see that there is an end.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, we all need moments of light. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the seriousness of what’s going on but it’s important to allow yourself some release from that from time to time.

From the vantage point of a time-machine, I also think about how we will look back on this period. For sure we’ll be glad to leave the pandemic behind us but there have been things that have come out of this experience that I will want to keep. I have got to know colleagues, partners and customers in a very different and much more personal way. We have all visited each other’s homes virtually, we’ve met family members and we’ve met pets. We have cooked together, exercised together and done quizzes together. We’ve talked on a deeper and more personal level with colleagues. “How are you doing?” is a real question now, not just something we say. We see the whole person in this environment and that’s a good thing.

We are all strengthening our emotional intelligence capability as we go through this period and that’s an important skill as we “pivot to thrive” in whatever situation 2021 brings us next.



Wendy Mars

Senior Vice President

President - Cisco EMEA