Lead with Empathy, Lead with Inclusion

By: Michelle Bogan

I lived in New York City during 9/11, and so much about the COVID-19 crisis takes me back viscerally to that time. The tragedy, the unknowns, the health crises, the business closures — and the humanity, the connection, and the gratitude for the service of those on the front lines.

The temptation is to keep waiting to see what will happen, to stay glued to the news and social media for any update that might indicate when it will all be over. This is a dangerous thing. It fuels the fire of feeling out of control and can spiral vastly and intensely.

What we all need to do is to start leading, now. Whether you are a leader in name or not, your leadership skills are desperately needed to create a sense of calm, connectedness, and compassion — in a word, INCLUSION — with those around you. This is especially true with your employees and colleagues, to help everyone feel their fears and needs are understood.

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This is a fantastic time to tap into ERG groups and other teams to surface the wide variety of needs people have right now. Odds are, many things can be addressed quickly and will benefit the majority of the company.

Be sure to create a simple tracking mechanism that lets everyone see what ideas are coming up, and what changes are being implemented and when. Transparency and communication are key. Finding good to come out of this crisis is vital. And sharing those wins helps people keep going.

The biggest thing we all control is how we choose to feel, communicate, and act. And it is important to remember these are choices. There are difficult decisions we all have to make right now. How we share those decisions with others, and describe the thought processes and feelings that led us to them, is a dialog that creates a very human, empathic connection.

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Empathy is the most important thing your employees and colleagues need right now. They deserve honesty about how this is impacting you, the company, and them. They need to know that you come to this issue as a human first. They need you to demonstrate that you understand that any decision has a direct and vital impact on them and that you don’t take that lightly.

You may feel like you have no idea yourself what will happen. I would argue that you do, at least to a degree, because you know the values and factors that will drive your decision-making. And that is what employees need to hear.

This is the time to reinforce the brand values and tenets that frame the steering of the company through good times and bad. If you don’t have those established, do that work now. Take the time to articulate how those values play into how decisions are made for the company, employees, partners, and customers. And how they will help you decide when and how to best change course when things turn around.

Remember, what scares people most is not knowing what will happen, and on top of that, not having a channel to communicate with someone who can listen and understand. While you may not be able to guarantee someone won’t lose their job or have to take a pay cut, you can give them comfort by being clear on the decision-making criteria, setting up two-way communication channels, and demonstrating thoughtfulness.

With these things in place, employees will have faith that leaders did their absolute best.

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Throughout her twenty-five-year career, Michelle Bogan has mentored colleagues and clients, founded and led women’s groups, and helped promote many women and men to leadership positions. In 2018, she founded Equity for Women to advance the mission of empowering women at work.

Originally published at https://www.ellevatenetwork.com.

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