Since COVID-19, numerous executives reset priorities and adjusted their viewpoints to emerge as more compassionate and empathetic leaders.
To capture the essence of the lessons learned, I recently connected with five executives who, over the past year, incorporated compassion into their leadership style to support their employees, organizations, and themselves.
“The year 2020 made it clear that the traditional office experience revolved around set boundaries – whether we realized those boundaries existed or not,” said John Cunningham, founder and CEO of VTS and IntelliShift. Cunningham said that relaxing pre-2020 boundaries allowed him to focus on what was important: people. “Removing boundaries means we now recruit the best candidates regardless of location.”
For many, 2020 also meant removing the boundary between home and work. “We realized within the first month of the pandemic that the situation would likely last 18-24 months,” noted Saar Yoskovitz, Founder and CEO of Augury. “Many Augury employees were working in messy homes with small kids running around. We had to become a fully remote-work-with-kids company. We all found it harder to separate work and life.”
Lowering the boundary between work and home, while difficult, brought new light for employers. “Being at home with my family and kids more often helped me to better understand my true priorities in life,” said Yoskovitz.
Invest in people
Removing corporate boundaries also allowed leaders to see where employees needed assistance. “The pandemic forced organizations to make deeper investments into employee wellness and mental health, and rightfully so,” said Sara Cooper, Chief People Officer at Jobber. Through employee surveys, provider partnerships, and mental health trainings, Cooper got a better grasp of where her employees were thriving, and where they weren’t.
“More compassionate leaders will be those that take the mental health of their employees seriously and invest in the resources and training needed to help,” Cooper said.
Investment in your employees helps in the long term, a sentiment felt by many. For Yoskovitz, this meant implementing a biweekly four-day workweek.
Cunningham felt similarly, noting that these experiences allow for growth. “Through the challenges, we’ve emerged more compassionate and understanding as a group. In some ways, we’re closer now than before.”
Create room to fail forward
Last year, many workplaces struggled as employees tried to balance their new normal. As a result, companies saw decreased employee productivity and increased burnout.
Vijay Sundaram, Chief Strategy Officer of Zoho Corporation and President of ManageEngine, sees this as an opportunity for realignment. “After a turbulent year that ran rife with personal tragedies and employee burnout, my hope is that leaders focus on adapting their culture to rebuild morale and reduce workplace stress,” he said.
Sundaram believes that seeing employees through hardships helps everyone in the long term. “Allow employees to get more comfortable with failure. Creating room to fail, through second or even third chances, helps employee retention, promotes constructive risk-taking, and allows teams to find new places to shine,” he said.
Never lose sight of your customers
While being a compassionate leader is important for your workforce, it’s also important for the external success of your organization and customers. “2020 solidified the need for a supportive and unified culture that starts, ends, and always stays focused on customer-centricity,” said Ayman Sayed, CEO of BMC Software.
Sayed says he was most impressed with his staff’s ability to shift to remote work without losing sight of supporting their customers’ continuity and success. By adopting a more compassionate approach to leadership, your returns become greater as your customers catch on.
“We learned how to run our business with greater empathy around things that matter as global citizens, and we helped our customers reinvent theirs, as technology providers were tasked with guiding an accelerated pace of transformation,” said Sayed. “We came together as a company to listen to our customers and each other. As a result, we built a faster, more collaborative ecosystem.”
The pandemic called for a new type of leadership. For this group, that calling meant compassion-first. As Sundaram put it, “The world and its workplaces have changed. It’s time that organizations did, too.”