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Humanity & strategy intersect in the virtual boardroom

By Carla Sharkey

COVID-19 has certainly leveled the playing field. No matter what your position or title was before the pandemic, whether a C-suite, an administrator, a business owner or a contributor, we are all dealing with varying levels of stress, anxiety and uncertainty.

As a leader, now more than ever, your teams need you to show up as a real person. No masks, no armour. The most impactful leaders during these times are the ones with the courage to show up authentically and vulnerably, sharing their own struggles and concerns. These are the leaders who are saying, “This is tough for me,” “I don’t have all the answers,” “Let’s work on this together,” checking in often with people at all levels of the organization and asking, “How are you really doing?” and, “What can I do to help?”

Humanity and strategy have intersected in the virtual boardroom. Strategic conversations were once all about the bottom-line results and an occasional mention of a company pot luck to check off the diversity and inclusion box. The spotlight is now shining brightly on leaders to address and invest in the uncomfortable and often vulnerable topics that have reached a tipping point for #BlackLivesMatter and #MentalHealth during the global pandemic.

The work of the leader is to build trust and create a safe space where people can engage in authentic discussions about the real issues they are facing. This requires leaders themselves to push past their own comfort zones, speak up, take risks and make mistakes. Avoiding uncomfortable conversations is also making a statement in itself. In her book Dare to Lead, Brené Brown calls out the avoidance of difficult conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion: “People are opting out of vital conversations about diversity and inclusivity because they fear looking wrong, saying something wrong or being wrong. Choosing our own comfort over hard conversations is the epitome of privilege, and it corrodes trust and moves us away from meaningful and lasting change.”

Leaders should be prioritizing the real issues that affect their people with empathy and compassion. Never before has servant leadership been more important – and the values and behaviours leaders demonstrate during this time will have implications long after the pandemic has passed. Autocratic leaders who charge ahead without considering the needs and concerns of their people and focus solely on the bottom line will not make it out ahead in the long run.

It’s not about getting it perfect, it’s about getting started. If you have perfection paralysis and don’t know where to start, here are a few ideas to get you on the right track:

• Give yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them.

• Speak openly and honestly about your own opportunities to grow.

• Create a platform where people can openly and safely discuss issues around diversity, equity, inclusion and mental health.

• Encourage differences of opinions.

• Prioritize trust building and psychological safety on your teams.

• Enter into a conversation with the intention to listen, learn and understand.

And overall, think human first.

“A servant leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

Robert K. Greenleaf
Center for Servant Leadership
www.greenleaf.org/what-is-servant-leadership

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