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6 ways to be a more empathetic leader during the coronavirus crisis

Maintaining morale and promoting self-care may be one of your most critical new responsibilities.

6 ways to be a more empathetic leader during the coronavirus crisis
[Photo: SvetaZi/iStock]

This is an extremely challenging time for everyone, especially leaders trying to do what’s best for their employees when so much is still unknown about the unfolding coronavirus crisis. Now that many employees are working from home, we must navigate challenges we’ve never faced.

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Maintaining morale and promoting self-care may be one of your most critical new responsibilities. We need to be vigilant about how this crisis affects employees when they’re more isolated than ever. Make the health and well-being of your staff a priority so they then can take care of the job at hand more effectively.

Here are some ways to promote empathetic leadership as we adjust to this new way of working:

Communication is key

In unsettling times, silence is the enemy. Organizations and brands need to communicate consistently in order to provide reassurance and clarity. When working in isolation, fear and anxiety can easily fester. We have been sending daily messages to our organization (these communications can be written or videotaped). If your staff holds daily team meetings, start virtually dropping into those as often as possible. While in-person meetings are on pause for the near future, showing your face via Skype or FaceTime can go a long way.

Be decisive

Making sure people can easily share concerns or information with you without any negative consequences is important. Consider setting up a channel for anonymous feedback. It’s more important than ever to nurture transparency when you’re trying to build and keep trust. How people are processing this situation runs the gamut. Consider the range of perspectives, combined with data, to make decisions that provide clarity and reassurance.

Engage and empower your team leaders

We start and end every day with a team check-in in which we gather feedback and address any issues to ensure we are pivoting and prioritizing appropriately. This informs all the actions we take as leaders and as an organization as we navigate the evolving new normal.

Nurture their morale

Working from home is a huge cultural shift for most organizations. We are taking steps to maintain a sense of community and connectedness through various digital tools. So far, we’ve set up a WFH chat where people can share tips, information, advice, and inspiration to help us adjust to this new way of working. We’re exploring virtual meetups, happy hours, book clubs, group yoga sessions, and more. Digital tools such as Microsoft Teams allow people to chat candidly and often comically about our situation.

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Remember everyone

We’re considering our administrative team and other groups that might not be a part of daily team interaction to make sure they’re more integrated and feel connected. Make sure to think of everyone, from your top performers to the support staff.

Tap your support resources

Remind staff of your employee assistance programs. We can do a lot for our employees, but we can’t do it all. It’s important to lean on outside resources and expertise to support people who may be feeling overwhelmed in this time of change and uncertainty.

As leaders on this roller coaster, we need to remain empathic, steady, proactive, and responsive to constant change.


Christine Fruechte is CEO of Minneapolis creative agency Colle McVoy and currently leads 240 people working from home.

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