Leadership Agility & Empathy


Boston Consulting Group (BCG) recently published an article describing the characteristics and behaviors necessary for leaders in the post-pandemic world. “Leadership in the New Now” rightly looks at how leaders will be successful as economies begin to re-emerge, but uncertainty still remains. More than ever, agility and empathy are going to be paramount for leadership.

I appreciate the way they have focused on the Head, Heart and Hands as the three major elements to effective leadership.

Head. This is where the strategic vision is created, where the mission & vision are clarified and shared, and where priorities (think 80/20) are set and emphasized. One of the most important parts of using our leadership heads is not to simply react to a stimulus, but to pause, ask insightful questions and seek to understand. In reactionary mode, leaders make hasty and, more likely, poor decisions while reverting away from stated strategies. A “one-off” will morph into multiple variants, and so on, so be cautious in allowing reactions and variations to become the norm. Revisiting the business vision & strategic priorities is absolutely warranted, as uncertainty requires an agile leadership and an ability to course correct based not on the loudest voice, but based on sound rationale, trends and root-cause data.

Heart. More than ever, empathy is needed in the wake of this pandemic. I have seen incredible displays of help & care in the last few months as people and companies have rallied to contribute aid and resources to first responders, healthcare workers and people suffering from severe symptoms.

Unfortunately, we have also seen an enormous surge in unemployment as companies have had to lay-off employees, furlough talent, reduce compensation and cease partnering with consultants & contractors.

I’ve also seen a divide. Some are convinced the pandemic is overblown and feel there is an over-reach of power and infringement on rights, and are eager to get back to work and some level of societal normalcy. Others are scared and hesitant, concerned about their health or the health of loved-ones, and anxious about coming into contact with others for fear of contracting COVID-19. Here’s a newsflash…both feelings are absolutely legitimate and fair, and are to be respected.

Empathy is about understanding, sharing and respecting, and in a diverse workforce with divided views, finding a way to appreciate differences while enabling team members to navigate between their concerns and obligations. It’s also about recognizing issues that are out of one’s direct control, and finding a way to demonstrate understanding through meaningful connection.

Hands. Getting the “day to day” activities done in this type of a situation has become more challenging. Not only have some priorities changed, but an organization functions best with a feedback & conversation loop that encourages suggestions and solutions. Just because we’re operating in a virtual environment now more than ever does not mean the quality of ideas or inputs should be ignored or downplayed. Quite the opposite. Now more than ever, trust has to be established and nurtured across the organization. Give/take direction, make commitments, deliver with excellence and emphasize the what (result) rather than the how (method). The author says it best: “The challenge for leaders in the new now is to give direction, provide autonomy, and focus on outcomes rather than activities—especially as work continues to become more flexible and distributed.”

One thought on “Leadership Agility & Empathy

  1. Kate Stone

    This is an excellent article and so well in how it is conceptually presented. Establishing the focus on 3 interrelated factors of the whole is very insightful. I like the way you establish the premise from an authority resource, and then add your own comments as additional pragmatic interpretation. Your articles are appreciated as being very timely!


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