Humanity First Leadership and Communications

During hard times is often when you find out who you can count on, when natural leadership is born and practiced. It’s when core values instinctively kick in and lead to clear, concise and genuine decisions and actions. It is an opportunity to quickly separate the people who are leading with humanity from those who are not.

There is a lot we can learn from the events relating to COVID-19. In this post, I share a few of my observations and thoughts on how we can become better leaders and communicators.


Be Proactive. Remain Grounded.

From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the senior leadership team (SLT) at Microsoft has been proactive in their employee communications, providing frequent updates on the impact to our colleagues, communities, and customers worldwide. They answered questions before they were asked, they addressed concerns in real-time, and they followed up when they needed to.

Microsoft was one of the first major employers in the U.S. to tell employees to work from home and to also make the decision to pay hourly workers even if their hours were reduced due to the remote work mandate. Their actions were in complete alignment with Microsoft’s values of respect, integrity, and accountability.

Another good example of value-based decision making is from Eli Lilly and Company, whose guiding principles are to protect the health and safety of our employees and to protect our ability to make and supply medicines to patients. Among many proactive steps to fight the coronavirus, the company has decided to delay most new study starts and pause enrollment of new patients of healthy volunteers in most ongoing studies in an effort to ease the burden on participating healthy care facilities and allow physicians to focus more of their efforts on combating COVID-19.

There are hundreds of different ways to respond in a crisis. Applying a value-based decision structure is one way to navigate quickly and in-service to your mission, people and customers. 

Being Real Builds Trust

A key moment that underscored my trust and belief in the actions of Microsoft’s SLT was during a Town Hall Q&A when CEO Satya Nadella described the operating model for how he and his team were making decisions during this time of uncertainty. It was a brief description that had a big impact on me – a glimpse behind the scenes that provided a direct connection to the emails, like this one from Satya, that I was receiving. Consistent in each communication from the SLT is a sentiment like this one from Satya’s email:
Please know that the senior leadership team and I are thinking about you and prioritizing the health and safety of you and your families first and foremost. We are meeting and working each day on how we can best support you during this time.
While these words were being conveyed clearly and consistently, it was during a webinar that I truly had an ah-ha moment and the sincerity hit home. For context, I deploy practices and methods that I know help me cultivate focus, remain grounded, and be clear-headed during my workday. So when Dr. Michael Gervaise, a high-performance psychologist, was slated to do a webinar for Microsoft employees I was excited to attend and learn.

The purpose of the webinar was to share techniques and reminders on how to manage stress and practice calmness during challenging times. The tips that Gervaise shared were very much in alignment with my own yoga and mindfulness practices, things like box breathing technique and walking outside for 20 minutes several times a day. While these were great reminders and validation of how I lived my life, it was comments from Judson Althoff, EVP of Worldwide Commercial Business at Microsoft, that resonated with me completely. In one of Judson’s video appearances during the webinar, he created a pause in the conversation to share that the tips being provided were real-life practices that he and the SLT believed in and practiced themselves. He wholeheartedly encouraged everyone to prioritize taking care of themselves and their families. It was at this moment that I realized this wasn’t just lip services, but a very real priority for the company as a whole.

Actions speak louder than words. Seek out ways to show up fully in real-life moments as these interactions can build the foundation for trust in relationships.


Take Stock and Make Improvements

Even with the best of intentions, events will take place that no amount of planning could have prepared you for. Drawing on inspiration from Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius I think of this sentiment – When battling something that may ruin your life, act in a way that does not ruin your character.
Pause, take a breath, be deliberate, and resolve to not let your actions be driven by your circumstances. 

Many teams are identifying gaps that need to be resolved quickly and with grace. I’m part of a CMO Slack channel and there has been a flurry of activity with people asking for help and those sharing resources – crisis communications, customer resource center tools, templates, etc. Lean into these types of communities and everyone will benefit.

When experiencing a major event consider that your employees and customers likely want to hear from you on similar topics. Are you prepared to be transparent and act quickly? What channels and methods will you use for updates and communications? How can you expedite internal processes and re-prioritize existing work? Do you have current ads or messaging in the market that need to be changed or updated so that your company doesn’t appear tone-deaf to the current situation? Now is the time to place rigor around the gaps in your business and re-examine your strategy.

We’re not often tested as we have been recently, look at it as an opportunity to lead with your heart first and your mind second and we can all become wiser and more resilient than before.

This post was first published as an article on LinkedIn on April 1, 2020. 

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