Authentic Leaders In Time of Crisis
[Work From Home, Day 16]
A few days back, I saw a comment in LinkedIn that said certain leaders or managers had, all of a sudden, become micromanagers during this crisis period where “work from home” policies are being practiced worldwide to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
I personally would think that at this difficult time, humanity and empathy are of utmost importance to hold us all together. While social distancing keeps us physically apart, we have the technologies to keep us emotionally & mentally connected. We should pick up our phone and call our colleague to ask him or her, how is she/he coping at home as we might not be fully aware of what is going on in their family during this difficult time. Maybe they have a sick child at home. Maybe they need to attend to the kids who are kept at home while schools are closed. As leaders, even more, important during this difficult time is that we need to show genuine support and care towards our team members, just like how we would treat our family members.
There are also numerous headlines splashing across social media and the news with words such as recession, pay-cuts, downsizing or even lay-offs and retrenchment. As a Financial Advisor myself, my clients who are business entrepreneurs are now exploring those options in the name of preserving the financial performance of the company, which seems to me, at times, are pulling the triggers too soon and too easily.
As leaders, it is of utmost importance to demonstrate compassion and authentic leadership, especially during times of crisis. Leaders who are genuine in acting and communicating inspire loyalty in others. One of them that I came across is Marriot International CEO, Arne Sorenson, who proved it this week with the release of a six-minute video to Marriot employees, shareholders, and customers. Sorenson’s video was heartfelt and inspiring. He demonstrated vulnerability and humility, two qualities that connect human beings to one another. In the video, he was candid by delivering the bad news face to face. He placed the numbers in a perspective that leaves no room for confusion. He displayed a sense of shared sacrifice by saying that both Mr. Marriott and he will not be taking any salary for the remainder of 2020, and his executive team will be taking a 50% cut in pay. He also showed genuine emotion in this video, as the final 60-seconds of the video are impossible to be captured in an email. Choking back tears, Sorenson says:
“I can tell you that I have never had a more difficult moment than this one. There is simply nothing worse than telling highly valued associates—people who are at the very heart of this company—that their roles are being impacted by events completely outside of their control.”
He ended his video with a beautiful and hopeful note by saying that when their guests are ready to travel this beautiful world again, he and the team will be there to welcome them with the warmth and care that they had been known for the world over. Together, he assured the team, they can and will overcome this and will thrive once again.
I am truly at awe with Mr. Sorenson. He has built up a mountain of goodwill. Chief Executive Magazine named Sorenson the CEO of the year for 2019. “Putting people first has always been the cornerstone of our success” Sorenson once said.
Another great leader that puts “People First” as his guiding principle is Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, a manufacturer of packaging equipment that owns more than 100 companies in 28 countries, with nearly 12,000 employees and ranks number 9 on the St. Louis Business Journal’s list of the city’s Top 150 Privately Held Companies.
In 2008, the Chapman test drove his people-first business model through the Great Recession. After 40% of the company’s product orders evaporated in early 2009, he insisted that no one would be laid off. “Downsizing is the standard business approach to an economic downturn”, Chapman said. Instead, he devised a plan that required all employees – whether they worked on a factory floor or in a corporate office – to take unpaid furloughs of up to four weeks.
“I said to myself, what would a caring family do if a member of a family had a problem? We’d all pitch in together to help” he said. “We wouldn’t take it out on anyone person”.
How do you expect the employees reacted to this? It was extraordinary. There are even those who offered for double furloughs, a compassionate way to help their fellow teammates who were unable to afford the loss of pay. Many would take this opportunity to plan their time off, spending time with their family members at their summer homes and participating in special volunteering projects.
Barry-Wehmiller bounced back quickly after the recession. It set an earnings record in 2010 and continues to grow – proof that a company can value its employees and still make a profit.
“Why not have everyone endure a little pain so that no one has to endure a lot of pain?”, said Mr. Chapman. A loving family shares their burden and because Barry-Wehmiller’s leaders walked the talk, they were rewarded with something truly priceless: their employees’ trust.
The leadership attributes demonstrated by both Arne Sorenson and Bob Chapman resonates with many principles Mr. Dale Carnegie shared in his two classic books How to Win Friends and Influence People and How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. Putting people first by honestly seeing things from the other person’s point of view. As Mr. Carnegie put it in his book, “if you get only one thing – an increased tendency to think always in terms of the other person’s point of view, and see things from that person’s angle as well as your own – if you get only that one thing, it may easily prove to be one of the stepping-stones of your career”.
NICOLE LAU SIEW CHENG Financial Advisor/Graduate of the Dale Carnegie Course
Leonard, M., 2018. How A Clayton Manufacturer Shared Sacrifice To Avoid Layoffs During The Great Recession. [online] News.stlpublicradio.org. Available at: <https://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/how-clayton-manufacturer-shared-sacrifice-avoid-layoffs-during-great-recession> [Accessed 30 March 2020].