August 2021

The Art of the Pivot

by Jay Pullins

Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome

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One of the leadership qualities that has impressed me most since COVID-19 began is the ability that some leaders have to change direction quickly when needed, while continuing to stay focused and productive in the face of unprecedented uncertainty. Some qualities that have been essential to many successful business leaders recently are resilience, optimism, the capacity to learn new skills, and commitment to maintaining a high level of service to customers who are themselves struggling to adapt. Resilient leaders see opportunities where others see obstacles. They embrace the art of the pivot.

Sonia Pullins is the owner of Sonia's Art Studio in Anchorage, Alaska. She is an artist, featured in the Anchorage Museum and Alaska's largest gallery, and provides art training to adults and students in her home studio. She has been teaching art history, appreciation, and technique for 25 years. Her typical week sees 60 to 70 children come through her home studio in groups of six to eight. Many of her students have carried their love for art into their adult lives over the years, some becoming art teachers and professional artists themselves.

When COVID-19 disrupted Anchorage, Alaska in March of 2020, schools closed, a "hunker down" order was enacted, and children could no longer come to Sonia's home for classes. If she was going to continue to serve her 60+ students, Sonia's business model was going to have to pivot quickly. Sonia named this transformation she would undertake "making lemonade."

Sonia's goal was to maintain her high level of service to students and parents who can't come to her home, while remembering that many of her clients were also pivoting to a stressful work from home while schooling from home model. She met this goal by altering the semester's remaining lessons to be more user-friendly, delivered virtually, and used materials families were likely to already have on hand, since so many stores were temporarily closing.

Sonia had to quickly learn some new skills. Like many of us, she had to master the Zoom online meeting. She taught herself to create weekly video lessons for her students using her MacBook and iPhone iMovie software, and learned how to create her own YouTube channel. Her art classroom became her video production space. She offered additional online group meetups and one-on-one online sessions for those who needed a little extra help.

During the summer of 2020, it became clear that Anchorage schools would not be re-opening in the fall. Sonia built a fall curriculum that contained a combination of video lessons, written lesson instructions, packaged art project materials, weekly online group sessions, and the aforementioned one-on-one sessions for additional help. One unforeseen opportunity of the new format was opening classes to students outside of driving distance, as well as physically challenged students who cannot attend an in-person classroom setting. Her fall semester attendance increased from 60+ students to 80+ students.

Another unforeseen opportunity presented by Covid-19 was the added interest that adults had in home improvement. This included an expanded interest in purchasing art. Thanks to some creative pivoting by Anchorage's gallery, Stephan Fine Arts, where Sonia's work is presented, sales of her paintings increased, and Sonia pivoted more of her energy to producing more of her own art to meet that demand.

This surely was not the last pivot Sonia's business will have to make. As a new school year begins and state, city and school district mandates continue to evolve (differently in various places), building flexibility and options into our plans is an important strategy for all business leaders. The business environment will continue to evolve in the coming months and years. "Hybrid" models for people meeting together seem to be coming next.

You can learn more about Sonia's Art Studio at


What's Your Pivot Story?

Tell us your Pivot Story to win the chance to be featured in a future Academy Leadership newsletter! Have you seen the seismic changes as opportunities rather than obstacles? How have your flexibility and resilience been stretched? How have you raised your customer service bar to meet the needs of customers who are struggling to adapt? How will you develop your personal leadership skills in the coming year to meet the needs of a business environment struggling to rebound?

Let Us Know!