Article: Empathy is fundamental to leadership, especially in times of crisis: Siddharth Mehta, CEO Freecharge


Empathy is fundamental to leadership, especially in times of crisis: Siddharth Mehta, CEO Freecharge

In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Siddharth Mehta, CEO Freecharge shares what are the key things a leader needs to focus on during this crisis and the importance of leading the conversation internally unambiguously and genuinely.
Empathy is fundamental to leadership, especially in times of crisis: Siddharth Mehta, CEO Freecharge

The true test of leadership is how well you function in a crisis- Brian Tracy

The world is grappling with a crisis it has not seen before. And to steer the mass of humanity through this crisis, even the leadership has to reinvent itself. From being empathetic to communicating clearly to putting the greater good ahead of all other concerns, leaders have a responsibility to keep calm and try to maintain business as usual as much as possible while managing employee experience in such testing times.

In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Siddharth Mehta, CEO Freecharge shares what are the key things a leader needs to focus on during this crisis and the importance of leading the conversation internally unambiguously and genuinely.

What are the key things for a leader to focus on while in a crisis?

 Leadership is truly tested in the time of crisis. A right leader will always make all the effort to keep a balance in the workforce even in tough times, they will ensure everyone’s involvement in the pursuit of results. Although, there is no particular manual to guide a leader through a crisis, here are some of the things we follow at Freecharge.

 • Keeping the workforce motivated - A leader has to clearly communicate to the employees that the organization is doing its best to maintain a balance despite the situation and that everything will be taken care of. They need to know that a crisis is just a very difficult phase, which will eventually come to an end. At Freecharge, we organize regular town hall meetings, where we talk about the nature of the problem and refrain from unnecessary data dumping. We focus on addressing employee issues, reiterating that the leaders are accessible, with the main purpose being open communication

 • Being honest and adaptable - Employees are the foundation of an organization, hence for every decision to be taken, it is extremely important that the workforce is well informed about prioritizing certain objectives, keeping in mind the need of the hour. Decisions taken during a crisis are crucial and have the power to change the fate of a company, hence it is imperative to communicate with transparency.  With adaptable leadership, employees will be willing to learn and identify potential problems and leaders can handle the situation with greater assertiveness thus generating viable outcomes for their businesses

 • Being empathetic – Empathy is fundamental to leadership. Especially in times of crisis, it is important for a leader to display empathy, to communicate to the employees that they care for their needs. However tough the times are, our shared concern of ‘we are in this together’ will go a long way towards building an environment of support and also drive better performance

Providing comfort – We consistently check on the well-being of our employees and ensure that they, and their family members are safe.  We also have regular employee well-being engagements through various initiatives such as ‘Mindfulness week’ which specifically focusses on mental health, ways to combat stress and reduce anxiety. Providing a sense of calm, peace and balance

 • Communicating goals – It is vital to reiterate the goals we had set out to achieve even during challenging times. Working in cooperation, instilling ‘owner attitude’ and working towards that goal. While employees need to understand that the goals are directly connected to the company’s end result, it is crucial for the leader to effectively communicate the same

What is the importance of sticking to company values during an emergency?

An organization is built upon and known for the values they judiciously practise. Customer centricity, integrity, ownership, teamwork and ethics form the core values of Freecharge. Keeping these values together becomes even more important during a crisis. It not only helps in following the best practices, but also helps align every individual to the same line of goals and objectives. 

 A company’s values are as important as the characteristics of a product. During an emergency, it becomes difficult to maintain the common norms of a framework; hence an enunciated statement of values can draw an organization together.

Why is it important to put the greater good ahead of all other concerns?

When the whole world is going through a crisis, it is obvious that every industry, every company will face the heat. It should be our duty to prioritize the greater good to bring back normalcy. At times of emergency, we all need to work towards helping each other out of the pit. We all need to focus on bringing equilibrium to the situation and us thereafter. 

Going back to one of the leadership qualities I had mentioned, empathy. Times like these demand an incredible amount of empathy from individuals. As organizations, we have the capacity to change things to a larger extent and every action we take must be a representation of our values which in the long run will build a positive perception of us amongst people.          

How can leaders lead the conversation internally unambiguously and genuinely?

Clarity in communication is synonymous to leader. 

A leader also must understand the nuances of handling the flow of communication internally and the process must be conversational, and less to do with series of commands. The same should trickle down to managers who handle different teams. It has to be a two-way communication approach where the employee is heard, facilitating a welcoming space for genuine dialogue and discussion.

What steps do leaders need to take to maintaining business as usual as much as possible while maintaining the employee experience?

 • A leader must figure out a stopgap measure, a workable fix during the time of a crisis that helps continue the work momentum and at the same time ensure a nearly smooth running of the business. 

• Maintain a real-time connect with all employees

• Technology enablement for all

• Provide objective KRAs for everyone, that can act as a guiding force

• Empower employees to collectively think out of the box, and find solutions to real-life problems

• Think of customer/ employee first, and take decisions keeping them in mind. For example – use of virtual onboarding for new recruits, insourcing of customer queries, etc.


What are some things leaders should definitely not do in a crisis?

A leader, at any cost, cannot lose their calm. Employees look up to their leaders, and if they portray resentment, employees will lose confidence in them. Hence, it is important for a leader to demonstrate confidence and keep the workforce motivated.

It is all about having the right mind-set. There is no set rule that will help a leader during adversity but their experience. During a setback, a useful perspective would be the one that doesn’t focus on negative outcomes alone but considers data, facts, actual causes, and channelizes those to conduct the management process, by involving people and showing the way. An unequivocal viewpoint of a leader displays reasoning and a sense of judgment to see things clearly as they are and not what they appear to be.

A leader should always be available, during adversity it is important that employees know who they can reach out to, and they need to hear from the leader frequently.

Guiding with a sense of calm is a mark of confidence and also provides strong support in continuing business functions amidst a challenging scenario.

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Topics: Leadership, #LeadTheWay

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