How to lead selflessly through Covid-19

A crisis can bring out the best qualities of leader as well as the worse. Through Covid-19, I have seen CEOs step up to support their employees during this pandemic whether for example, by committing to not laying off employees or cutting their salaries.  I have also seen CEO’s make dramatic mistakes, such as excessive profiteering through PPE provision.

So what can leaders do in this time to support their employees and how can they be sure that their giving hits the mark? Effective measures fall into three categories: taking some of the same hits as your team; giving with a larger purpose in mind; and being transparent even when it’s hard.

Take a hit

Self sacrifice is not just about a business doing what’s right. If you are going to ask your employees to sacrifice, you need to sacrifice as well. If you expect your team to behave safely, you as a leader should behave safely. If you expect your team to get down in the trenches, you should be down there with them. No one likes the leader who throws their team on the front line while they sit in their office.

When you’re a leader, sacrificing along with your employees could mean that they will be more committed to staying with the business during and after the crisis. This could mean the difference between recovering from the Covid-19 crisis or not.

Give with purpose

Many businesses are offering free services like free virtual tours or free learning tools for kids. Likewise, we have seen businesses step up to help provide resources needed to combat the effects of the pandemic.  For example, companies such as Tesla and Ford have shut down factories to make ventilators.

Whatever businesses give, it is important to tie the sacrifice to vision, purpose, and the values of your business so that people can understand why you are doing it.

If that purpose isn’t clear, there can be backlash. Research by PsycNet shows that people are skeptical and when leaders self sacrifice, they try to infer why the leader might be doing it or focus on what they are not doing.

Be transparent

Leaders should be transparent about what that sacrifice amounts to. If a leader publicly donates 10% of their salary to a nonprofit, they should explain what the nonprofit is and what exactly is happening to the money.

Even when we are not in a crisis, 84% of employees think businesses are not doing enough  to create transparency. But this comes at a cost to the business. A study by Human Resource Management showed that businesses that were more transparent had higher productivity, innovation, and retention than those that were more opaque. In contrast, increasing transparency can in fact build trust. 


"If you are going to ask your employees to sacrifice, you need to sacrifice as well. "

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