4 ways to Lead with Empathy in a Time of Uncertainty
It’s hard to wrestle with a ghost.
You either own your fears or they own you. Fears do their worst damage when they knock around in your mind. Last night, my fears knocked around in my mind from about 3:30 AM to 5:00 AM, when I finally got up and decided to do something about it.
I remembered all of the articles I’d written, all the confidence I display in front of sales teams, and how just last week I admitted to a group of sales leaders, “You may think I’m confident, you may think I have all of the answers, but the truth is just because I don’t post my fears and insecurities on Instagram doesn’t mean I don’t have them.” And then I thought, maybe I’d be doing you a better service if I did. Am I scared? Sure. Am I nervous about what lies ahead for those who are underserved in our communities? Do I worry about my son growing up in a time where we isolate ourselves and the only real listening we do is through earbuds so we can create our own experience and tune each other out? You betcha!
These are tough times and interesting times. But for the first time in over twenty years, my calendar for the next 90 days is devoid of travel. I feel surprisingly liberated.
So what can we do as sellers, as leaders, as parents, and as friends to survive and even thrive in this new reality? I’ve taken time today to ponder four strategies. And don’t think for one moment I’m not writing this to ease my own fears of the unknown.
1) Lead with Empathy
Now isn’t the time to show your competence or to demand outcomes.
The best leaders know that to win the hearts and minds of their teams and customers, they must lead with empathy. Just as sales reps must lead with empathy to win a sale, in times of crisis managers need to lead with compassion. Ask people how they’re feeling and what they need. No, it’s not business as usual but life and commerce will move on. You will need to adjust your message and demonstrate that you understand what your customers and employees need to feel safe. Always remember that before people decide on your message, they decide what they think of you.
2) Take time to Reflect
As my wise 85 year old mother posted,
Staying home to avoid crowds makes me realize how much time we spend doing things that are time-consuming and often not necessary to our well being, either physically or socially. Today I woke up feeling strangely liberated. No appointments. No meetings. Neither lunch nor dinner out. Just me at home, writing and painting, writing and painting!
I must remember, after this virus is gone, to be more judicious about keeping time for the things I love most.
Reflection requires far more than intelligence. Reflection is asking the questions:
- Why do I do what I do?
- What makes me feel whole?
- Who do I want to be?
- Who do I (eventually) want to spend my time with?
Max Altschuler, Vice President of Marketing at Outreach, said on a podcast recently that each year we must reflect not only on our business goals but on who and what gives us joy. He suggests you scroll through the pictures on your phone and ask yourself, “who and what gave me joy last year,” and based on that, plan your calendar for the next year. Now is the time to avoid toxic people, ask reflective questions, and plan who to spend your limited time with once this all blows over.
3) Connect from Afar
Relationships give meaning to what would otherwise be a lonely, angst-ridden existence. Connection is why we’re here; it’s how we make it through heartbreak, death, birth, and jealousy. Feelings of disconnection are usually found at the heart of shame and pain. Research shows that people with stronger relationships have tougher immune systems; they get sick less often and heal faster when they do. We’re happier, more successful, and healthier when we’re surrounded by a large social support system. As COVID-19 spreads, we’ll continue to see more people asked to work remotely, more school closings, more canceled events, and other measures associated with social distancing. Put a plan in place to enjoy a “Quarantini”, meet your associate’s pets via video and, hey, you might even send a letter in the mail!
4) Replace Panic with Poise
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”—Nelson Mandela
Panic is a natural reaction to a pandemic. The number of coronavirus cases in the United States is ticking steadily upward, and with it are Americans’ collective anxiety levels. But stockpiling massive caches of toilet paper and bottled water out of fear will only lead to more shortages and more stress. And of course, stress lowers your immune response. Instead, acknowledge your fears. You can’t fight your fears until you put them in front of you. Write your fears down and share them with a friend, family member, or mentor. The minute you do, your fears will shrink right in front of your eyes.
When you acknowledge pain and allow yourself to feel it, you see it for what it is, not a ghost but something solid and maybe, just maybe, a massive opportunity.
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