This past week I conducted a “Leadership through Disruption and Crisis” Webinar for MENA SPEAKERS based in Dubai.  One of the insights that popped out to me was as I was preparing for this session, I kept going back to the “CEO title”  As I have been reading over the past few weeks I keep coming across the word empathy.  For some reason, both those words stayed with me.

As I have talked and advised leaders, I keep hearing “our people”, “my workers” etc.  One CEO in discussing this dynamic became emotional as to how his workforce was reacting through these trouble times.  He stressed the family atmosphere and his concern for their wellbeing.

So as I was preparing my slides, and I saw the Title CEO, a thought came into my mind around the importance of that role in this age of disruption.  Many CEOs have begun thinking about this crisis through 3 lenses:

Transform to Perform

That thought catered around transforming the CEO from Chief Executive Officer to the Chief Empathy Officer.  That means shifting your attention and concern to the needs of others or as I like to call them ‘Our greatest asset’. Sure, we have to get the business model adjusted, but for this to move forward, your people have to come first. Our workforce has been traumatized. That means that the role of the CEO and team means that Empathy must drive it. 

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Be empathetic

You are in the driver’s seat

Most of the world has gone through working from home with an indefinite timeline of when we will be returning to our offices.  We have had numerous meetings on Zoom, Webex, Skype, etc.  We are all faced with interruptions to our day-to-day operations due to supply chain issues, changes in demand, retail closures, to name just a few of the many challenges businesses are currently facing.  If you are considered an “Essential Worker”, your life is compounded as you are a front-line worker.

It can all be a bit overwhelming.  During this time, many questions arise around how you should move forward. Do you continue marketing as normal? Should you address the situation at hand? Do you communicate the measures you’re taking as a brand or make yourself scarce in the inbox? Should you push off that large announcement or new product release? How much communication is enough, and how much is too much?

Empathy is the Post Crisis competency

The guiding framework through all of this is that we must have empathy for each other, for our community, our customers, and most importantly, that “greatest asset”. As you contemplate the best way to communicate with your employees as well as your customers, we have to navigate through the lens of empathy. My mantra has always been Employee First, Customer Second, which was the title of a great book years ago.

Empathy Masterclass

I recently heard the announcement that Airbnb would lay off 25% of its workforce. Just imagine for a moment that you had to guide that decision through your workforce. But I have to tell you that Brian Chesky, Chief Executive [Empathy] Officer, sent a letter to all employees, and it is a masterclass in messaging. He discussed the current state of the business and how it had caused his team to rethink their business, what he was feeling as he was putting this together, why and how the layoffs were going to be held, severance strategy, post-Airbnb resources such as career and CV counseling, etc. His words were masterful.

I would ask for all people that read this article to take a few extra minutes and read it. The hurt emanates from the words.

We have heard the constant drumbeat of “We Will Get Through This”.  We will, but you have to guide this, and your role is the titular head of your organization.  So, transform yourself into an empathy-driven person because your employees need this now.