Leading Through The COVID-19 Storm: Composure & Connection through Empathy & Authenticity

“When the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked all would be lost. But if even one person on the boat remained calm and centered, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.” ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh

Leaders around the globe face the daunting task of making crucial strategic and tactical decisions with imperfect information in a sea of continually changing variables. Here’s the essence of this message: maintain composure and establish connection through authenticity and empathy. 

Authenticity.  Being authentic elicits the unspoken heart connection that exists between you and your team.  Be vulnerable.  Acknowledge the shared humanity of this crisis as you search for answers to the unanswerable.  Exposing your vulnerability to your team will strengthen your organization, connect you to them and to each other, and build cohesion to face the monumental challenges at hand. 

Empathy. Showing empathy as a leader establishes trust.  Empathy messages to your team that their pain and fears are seen and heard.  It messages that as a leader, you are committed to navigating the team through this crisis. The simple practice of expressing empathy will help to ease the tension and steady your people. Practicing empathy as a leader does NOT mean shying away from difficult and necessary decisions. However, leading with empathy does mean you are better positioned for the journey ahead. 

Organizational empathy considers and acknowledges the impact and ripple effect of every decision made, individually and collectively.  Empathy should govern the manner in which you communicate and execute these decisions. Your message should include: I care about you, and we, as a leadership team, will do everything we can to caretake this organization and the people who comprise it. 

Connection.  Connection is the life-force of any organization and of humanity as a whole. Maintaining connection is mission critical as we navigate this pandemic and the palpable fear it has unleashed.  The cosmically cruel irony of this time is that when we need each other most, we are being asked to isolate and physically separate. Despite this distancing shock to our systems, we can maintain strong connections– and possibly forge deeper ones.  Inspire and challenge your team to leverage their virtual interactions to deepen these connections.    

Here’s a brief list of “virtual connection” recommendations to leaders everywhere:

1. Increase the frequency of organization-wide virtual team meetings for the sake of connection. Leaders can optimize their approach by balancing clarity and candor with compassion and kindness. Obviously, meetings require purpose, and this current environment certainly allows for more frequent updates. 

2. Leaders should virtually meet with their respective teams once a week as a “check-in.” The check-in need not be separate from recurring team meetings. Begin with a prompt to the group like “Tell a brief story about how you are managing this crisis.” or “In a few words, share something you appreciate right now.” Or, try to bring some humor to the group by asking them to share a funny anecdote amidst the crisis.  Allow each person to share their answer to the prompt.  Listen to your people as there is healing in having their voices heard. (It’s helpful if the leader shares first)

3. Be sure to connect with every “direct report” (i.e. immediate team member) once a week in an effort to enhance connection.  Again, listen and share authentically

4. Consider beginning each virtual meeting with a silent “mindful minute.”  Set your timer and ask the group to use the mindful minute to “arrive” into the meeting and set an intention to be present, putting all other distractions aside. This is a simple practice with exponential impact that sets a calming tone of productivity and presence.

Amidst the fear and suffering, let’s remind each other of our shared humanity, and that there is no way through this but to be present for each other.  The future is unknown, yet within the unknown lies the possibility for growth and transformation.

The Buddha says, “Our fear is great, but greater yet is the truth of our connectedness.” 

Connect through authenticity and empathy.  Our future on this planet depends on it.  Your people long for it.  Let’s care for our colleagues and fellow human beings in this time of immense fear and uncertainty. The most prudent path forward for our organizations, our communities, and our planet is to stay connected and extend care and compassion to one another.

– Cory Carlesimo, Co-founder of CQ Associates