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Empathetic leadership in times of crisis Nancy Rademaker - April 20, 2020

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The Corona-crisis has created new contexts of work overnight and as with any type of change, not everyone adapts at the same rate. Full or partial lockdowns have urged many companies to either completely rethink their business model at the speed of light, to drastically switch from offline to online delivery, or at least to organize a different way of working. Leaders are going through rough times as they need to make painful decisions like cutting jobs on the hand and making sure new revenue streams are generated on the other. And all of this almost within a week.

A new context of work

For employees, times are no less challenging. Complete workforces have had to switch to remote working overnight. Through cloud computing, they could quickly be equipped with the technological tools to support them, but the change nevertheless remains huge. Having to organize your workplace at home and working under new working conditions (such as having your children at home, in need of help with school or mere distraction) is not something one gets used to very quickly.

Sometimes the situation forces new team structures as well. Hospitals for example, are transferring medical personnel to different teams to cope with the constant influx of new patients. Fast retraining takes place to man the expanded Intensive Care departments. New processes may also have been put in place at some companies, particularly in dealing with customers or suppliers, and many workers have been temporarily added to the customer service department to deal with the huge stream of customer questions.

True leadership

And all these aspects, the different teams, different processes, new ways of delivering goods or services, the new workplace and working conditions, are greatly influencing employees. Not to mention the feelings of fear and uncertainty, and in healthcare also the fear of exhaustion. It is time for empathetic leadership. Plan time for conversations with your team, truly taking THEIR perspective and talking about THEIR experiences. We are not used to discussing our emotions in the context of work, but now we NEED TO. Make sure people feel heard and understood. To make sure they remain engaged, no matter how difficult.

If your palette of leadership skills does not include paying attention to your employees’ wellbeing in an ongoing way, this is the moment to plan time in your agenda to do it. If it does not come naturally to you as a leader, then forcing yourself to doing it is the only solution. Think of ways to demonstrate your respect and gratitude for their continuous efforts. And if the only things you can think of are sending postcards or flowers, that’s fine as well as a start.

The human capital of your organization is crucial in these times of navigating through the crisis, but will be equally crucial in reinventing, rebuilding and restarting after this is over. Use empathy to make sure you keep everyone on board.

Nancy Rademaker
Nancy Rademaker

With over 20 years of experience in IT and training, Nancy has always and above all passionately focused upon people: how technology influences their behaviour, how it helps them...

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