Right now, people are looking to leaders for transparency and guidance that will keep them safe as the COVID-19 crisis continues. Just look at New Zealand’s recently re-elected prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, who has demonstrated true compassion while inspiring and mobilizing a nation to limit coronavirus infections.
So, what does compassionate leadership mean today? It is having greater empathy and flexibility. Whether your employees are back in the workplace or working remotely from home, they are dealing with more distractions than usual — including anxiety around staying safe and creating contingency plans if a family member gets sick. While we’re all keen on meeting our professional obligations, be mindful of the mental overload and stress that we’re collectively grappling with during these difficult times.
Tips for Compassionate Leadership
- Check in to find out if anyone has been directly impacted by the crisis. How have they been impacted? Sometimes someone is dealing with tragedy, but don’t have the emotional language to express themselves effectively.
- Genuinely show someone that you want to understand what they’re going through. A crisis will affect people differently and to different degrees.
- Be responsible for understanding what the obstacles may be for the people on your team, even if they’re not upfront about it.
- Remember that most people will say they’re doing fine, even when they’re not.
Having consistent and transparent communication helps to reassure people that they’re valued, even during bad times. One way to do this is to establish communication that’s predictable, but it’s also important to be flexible with your teams.
Your direct reports should be doing the same with their teams. Have the normal processes that you use, but give people more autonomy, rather than less, to work within parameters that are conducive to everyone’s existing situation. This allows everyone to have more control over their day and time.
Be mindful that people absorb information differently. Many minority communities, many of whom are service workers on the front lines, are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Please show the same care for the safety of minority workers as is being shown for white-collar professionals with the luxury of working remotely.
To minimize misunderstandings, be as thoughtful, clear and direct in your communication as possible. As a change management expert and executive coach to large organizations for over 15 years, my research and experience dictates that it’s often during crisis moments that organizations show their underbelly. Organizational cultures that value their employees and customers will continue to do more of the same, while those that do not will have their cultures and values exposed in a more exaggerated manner.
Trust and loyalty is built and tested during difficult times. The more transparent and compassionate we are as leaders in our organizations, the more others are willing to show up and do the work.
A version of this article was originally published by Women Leading Travel & Hospitality’s sister brand, Women in Retail Leadership Circle.