During the coronavirus pandemic, people all over the world are looking to their leaders to lead with compassion, transparency and, above all else, to provide guidance that will keep them safe. Women leaders like Jacinda Arden, the prime minister of New Zealand, as Forbes illustrated in a recent article, Leading a Masterclass on Coronavirus Response.

Women leaders in the corporate arena can take a few pages from Arden’s playbook. She has authentically demonstrated compassion and empathy; inspiring and mobilizing a nation of 5 million to an early lockdown, which has limited infections, at the time of publication, to 1,015 and one recorded death. Her empathetic, compassionate and transparent leadership style engendered the trust of her nation and willingness to mobilize for the greater good rather than just compliance because of draconian measures. 

Compassion right now means having greater empathy and flexibility. Even though many remote workers are logging more hours than normal, the distraction of the 24-hour news cycle, anxiety around staying safe and creating contingency plans if a family member gets infected with the coronavirus, homeschooling, etc., is putting tremendous psychological, mental, financial and emotional strain on everyone. While we’re all keen on meeting our professional obligations and commitments, be mindful of the mental overload and stress that we’re collectively grappling with during these difficult times. 

4 Ways to Show Compassion

  1. Genuinely show someone that you understand what they’re going through. For some people it’s worse than it is for others. The situation is affecting people differently and to different degrees.
  2. Check in to find out if anyone has been directly impacted? How have they been impacted? Sometimes someone could be dealing with tragedy, but don’t have the emotional language to express themselves effectively.
  3. You’re responsible for understanding what the obstacles may be for the people on your team, even if they’re not upfront about it.
  4. 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 good communication that’s predictable, but also to be flexible with your teams. Having flexibility doesn’t mean your team lacks structure or process, however, it may need to be looser.

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. While large retailers have remained open to provide essential service, 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. 

Be thoughtful, clear and direct in your communication about the current situation. This minimizes misunderstandings. As a change management expert and executive coach to large organizations for over 15 years, 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, those that do not will have their organizational cultures and values exposed in a more exaggerated manner.

Trust and loyalty is built and tested during difficult times. The more transparent we are as leaders in our organizations, the more others, especially those at the front lines who are the most at risk, are willing to show up and do the work, knowing that their leaders take their safety seriously and will provide the necessary resources to protect them.