Leading by Example
When gyms in her area reopened, Lewellen wanted to get back to her workout routine, but the early-morning classes she usually attended were often full. So she opted for a class starting at 9:30 a.m. “I showed my staff that my family’s safety and my mental health and physical health were more important than what time it was in the day,” she says.
Leading by example shows employees that it’s all right to take time to care for themselves. “This is how CEOs need to lead today,” she says.
Employees are also seeing that CEOs are people, too. “My staff sees me in a ponytail and workout clothes, and I would have never let that happen before,” Lewellen says. “We’re closer now, but it’s not because of mandatory fun. It didn’t happen because of staff bowling day or birthday cake in the staff lounge. It is truly very transparent, genuine, real-people interaction.”
In the Businessolver study, 91 percent of CEOs said their company is empathetic, but only 68 percent of employees agreed. It might be time to make empathy a priority. The study found that 83 percent of Gen Z employees would consider leaving their current employer for a similar role at a more empathetic organization.
Lewellen is on board. “If you were not by nature an empathetic person and leader before, you have no choice now because it is in your face constantly,” she says. When people are working from home, their lives are on display—their pets, their children, the plumber—all of it. “It’s all just a big, jumbled mess,” she says. “Empathy is the only way we’re really surviving.”
She also recognizes that she has to trust her staff, who will benefit from the same flexibility she has exhibited. Too often, leaders’ statements about trust are lip service, she says.
“I don’t know what we’re afraid of,” she says, noting that being more flexible and trusting her employees have led to increased staff productivity.
Melancon, who formerly spent 200 days a year on the road, has been grounded by the pandemic at a single desk in one room. The experience has reminded him of earlier stages of his career, before he was a CEO, and made him more empathetic to those in other roles in his organization.
“As leaders, how we look after our organizations and things like mental health will be one of the two or three things people are going to judge us on,” he says. “That will be part of 2020 hindsight.”