Blog: Empathy in leadership during a crisis


Empathy in leadership during a crisis

Leaders are undergoing transformation. They are expected to navigate the VUCA ( volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world with the confidence of an extreme off-road race car driver.
Empathy in leadership during a crisis

Work from home, con calls, constant pinging on WhatsApp, and Zooming are taking over lives. In between, people are juggling activities to keep the children engaged, managing trips for essential supplies, the household chores and snucking in a workout session, if possible. The lines have blurred between work and home. Having your cat jump on your lap while you are in the midst of an intense client session or your little angel peering into your screen during a strategy discussion is the new acceptable norm. If you are lucky to have two rooms and two laptops along with robust internet service, you are blessed. We have come to terms with the fact, that many ‘I-can’t-do-without-it’ are luxuries, we have distant memories of.  Our lives have changed, forever. Work-life is likely to change in ways none of us imagined. 

The economic scenario looks uncertain, uncomfortable, and unsettling for many. Leaders are undergoing transformation. As a coach, I remind my clients that leaders are expected to navigate the VUCA( volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world with the confidence of an extreme off-road race car driver. Not having all the answers or solutions, is okay. When the climate is uncertain and things are spinning out of control, the success of an organization or its lack depends on the skill and attitude of the leader. As leaders, you are expected to ‘control’ results but in the times, we are in, none of us can. As a leader, everyone is looking up to you and, expecting you to come up with brilliant solutions to make the ‘issues’ go away. The pressure of how you conduct yourself can either enhance or mar you is an enormous burden to carry as a leader. 

Here are 9 ways that leaders can strengthen relationships with their teams:

  1. Show up: There’s nothing worse than a leader who is MIA (missing in action). Be visible and heard. Stay positive, engaged and confident. It helps build trust, increases morale and motivates people to co-create meaningful outcomes.
  2. Look at the big picture: Leaders have a heightened sense of self-awareness, in times of upheaval. They have the uncanny ability to look beneath the chaos and focus on the big picture. Acknowledge the fear do not be consumed by it. Drawing on mindfulness, they accept the uncertainty instead of fighting it and look for that sliver of opportunity to propel themselves towards the next evolution.
  3. Decentralize Power: In this age of uncertainty, great leaders display the ability for stewardship.  The burden of leadership may seem too heavy on one person, alone in times of crisis. Create conditions to nurture developing leaders like the mid-managers who perhaps are relegated to working on to-do-lists instead of operating to their true potential. Delegate decision-making powers to discover heightened, ownership and inclusiveness among people.  
  4. Over-communicate: In the wake of unprecedented change and uncertainty, silence from the leader can be ominous and the negativity can spiral out of hand. It is imperative that the channels of communication be open and transparent, especially when there may not be clear answers. Teams look towards leaders for inspiration, trust and reassurance. Be genuine and share what you now, what you don’t know and by when you may have more information. Focus, on conversations that inspire hope and confidence and, yet come from the space of reality. The more your team knows, the more they feel cared for. 
  5. Ask questions and listen: It’s easy to look at people’s problems and dole out solutions you may think they need. Allow them to share their fears and anxieties. Ask questions like, “How are you really, doing?” “What can I do make things better for you?” You may be surprised at the responses you receive. Each one is trying to cope as best as possible and as leaders, you can facilitate them through it.  
  6. Recognize every incremental victory: Small wins matter. Acknowledge and recognize personal and professional successes. Praise, when given timely, has more meaning so don’t sit on it. Be generous and make it public. Use words like, “Thank you” “You’re the best!” “You’re a savior!” “Keep up the good work!” “I knew I could depend on you!” It’s motivating, inspiring and attracts positive energy all around. 
  7. Encourage ‘playtime’ and ‘upskilling’: While work and targets seem paramount, lives have changed, dramatically in the work-from-home scenario. Accountability buddies for learning a as well as ensuring team members are investing time in fun things is of equal import. 
  8. Be human: Not everyone has two laptops or hi-end phones or alternate rooms to make work from home, seem officious. Be kind and level those high expectations. Be okay with cats making an appearance on the monitor or a little girl tugging at the sleeve of her dad for attention.   Keep the judgments aside as your team member expresses her inability to attend to a call during morning chores. People are doubling up duties of home, family, work and their personal needs. Reach into their hearts, being human is a strong character in a leader.
  9. Be a coach: During uncertain times, people are expected to contribute in ways they are not used to doing.  As a leader, your role is to mentor and coach your team to look beyond the obstacles and play on their strengths. Perfection and meticulous laboring on some aspects are no longer as important as timeliness or ‘speed over Mona Lisa’, as my husband says. Understand what’s coming in the way and how you can empower and inspire change in attitude and behavior. Dwell on results, accountability and sharp strategies to infuse higher performance effectiveness and increased productivity. 

Successful leaders move beyond directional leadership to stand together as one. They understand the value of human potential and the importance of human capital. They seek victory that is shared. Leaders are human, too however what differentiates the good from the great is the ability to acknowledge the fear and yet operate from an attitude to not give in or give up but get going. 

To quote Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Victory and defeat begin with your mind and the attitude of inclusiveness makes it possible in reality.


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Topics: Leadership, #GuestArticle, #LeadTheWay

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