Leaders We Looked To in 2020

2020 has been a challenging year, fostering feelings of fear and uncertainty. It was also a year to see leaders shine as they pivoted, innovated, and inspired their communities. As we prepare to celebrate the transition to 2021, we asked the Leadership Rhode Island staff to take one last look at 2020. Each staff member highlighted the Rhode Islander(s) for whom they personally felt embodied the four principles of Gallup’s strengths-based leadership: trust, compassion, stability and hope.


While most Rhode Island leaders were consumed with their own business survival and their individual struggles, the Ventilator Project team worked around the clock. They had our backs in case the very worst occurred and most of us didn’t even know it. Their efforts ensured that Rhode Island had a solution if the spread of Covid outpaced the supply of ventilators in our state and then they helped other states and countries in need.


“Dr. Scott and Dr. McDonald have been steadying presences throughout the pandemic, relying on facts to convey reality while expressing concerns for those who have gotten sick or died.  They are confident, clear, measured and sincere.   I’m proud of the professionals who represent RI to the public — but especially want to thank Dr. Scott, Dr. McDonald, and their team for guiding us through the worst of times.”


“If there’s anyone who has to adapt on a daily basis, it’s hospitality, tourism, and restaurant professionals. This is an industry that I never thought could be touched in my lifetime – everybody eats, everybody celebrates, and who doesn’t love a good vacation? When life came to a crashing halt in March 2020, we lost many beloved businesses in RI, but those who had the good fortune to keep the doors open adapted quickly and strategically to keep our bellies full of delicious food, and our hearts and minds entertained with all Rhode Island has to offer. They provided some sense of normalcy all while keeping Rhode Islanders safe!”


“During a year of tragedy, isolation, and loneliness, Josh Short and the team at the Wilbury Theatre Group never let us lose sight of hope. Their trusted community of artists innovated new formats to share stories, celebrated our communities, and kept us in touch with those intangible moments that remind us what it is to be human. Their production of The Decameron, inspired by a series of stories set during another real life pandemic in the 14th century, reminded me that while our current experience feels endless, there is hope on the horizon.”


“As a new Rhode Islander, I found the governor to be an exemplary leader during an extremely difficult time.  She built trust by clearly communicating plans during weekly briefings (and even created a slogan along the way…”Knock it off!”). Gina showed compassion towards working families and helped to create stability for kids by keeping many public schools open when it was deemed safe to do so.  She’s helped to instill a sense of hope in our community through her consistent leadership during the pandemic.”


“As a shopper, I benefited from the stability they provided by keeping the shelves stocked through their trusted relationships with vendors, purveyors, manufacturers, distributors – including many Rhode Island businesses. I appreciated their compassion and their efforts to keep everyone safe and prices from skyrocketing. And finally, I’m grateful for the hope they provided – seeing a way forward through complexity, change and fear and continuing to ensure a safe customer experience. For many like me, that was the only experience out of my home each week. There is definitely leadership magic at Dave’s – it doesn’t go unnoticed.”


“During  a time when a lot of people have focused inward, these servant leaders have looked outward for people who are our most vulnerable and even risked their own wellbeing due to the contagiousness of COVID-19. Laura has a noble heart. She works around the clock, perhaps lacking in resources, but abundant in compassion. She provides stability to those who don’t have it, and inspires hope in people’s darkest moments.”


“I have always admired teachers and how pivotal they are in the lives of young people. This year, teachers rose to unprecedented challenges in service of their students. Whether they were innovating ways to teach virtually, in person, or a combination of the two, they never let their passion fade. I’ve been so impressed by how creative they have been so their students continue to have some type of stability in this anything-but-normal year.”

Many thanks to these leaders who’ve done their best in an extraordinarily difficult situation and inspired us along the way.

Once again, we enter a new year supported with more evidence that further proves Margaret Mead’s words are alive in The Greatest Lil’ State: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

2021, we’re ready for you!