April 8, 2020

Meet Some Of The Behind-The-Scene Leaders Doing Great Things During The Pandemic

The pandemic has both restored and shocked my faith in humanity. We’ll get to those shocks in another column. Today I want to focus on those that are demonstrating an incredibly selfless level of leadership during the sudden shift to working-from-home all-the-time.

They care not for glory; instead, they care about the wellbeing of their team members.

They aren’t looking for the limelight, accolades or public thanks.

They are merely stepping up, checking their ego at the door, and delivering class acts of caring, empathic, purpose-driven leadership.

In British Columbia, Robert Bowness is the assistant director of a unit known as “Employer Operations” at BC Pension Corporation. Multiple team members in his group were nervous about going into the office after the outbreak began. Instead of making them go into the office, Bowness brought their office to them.

He went into headquarters, retrieved each employee’s ergonomic chair and their computer equipment, and then drove it to their homes. He left the items in the driveway or building entrance, text the team member from the car, smiled, waved, (social distancing rules, of course), and then drove back to the office and did it again for the next team member. Before dropping off the equipment and chair, Robert wiped everything down with isopropyl alcohol.

Santiago Jaramillo, CEO of employee engagement software company Emplify, asked his team a simple question: “What can we do to help managers navigate this time of fear and uncertainty with their teams?” In just three days—and some late nights—Santiago rallied his team to produce a free employee well-being assessment tool.

The tool wasn’t created to generate leads; rather, it was a noble gesture to help managers gauge the well-being, remote readiness and emotional sensitivities that may be affecting employees. (You can access the tool here.)

Then there is Angie Kim, a senior director of finance with Loblaw Companies Ltd, one of Canada’s most abundant food and pharmacy conglomerates. The various Loblaw companies employ over 200,000 people across the country. For three weeks, Angie has been volunteering her time in different grocery stores as a frontline team member, be it stocking shelves, serving customers, or motivating employees. She doesn’t have to be there, but she’s doing it nonetheless.

Angie took to LinkedIn recently first to make certain that the rest of the world appreciated what these frontline workers are doing for society. (As grocery stores across the world have been deemed an essential service.) But Kim also was showing an incredible level of leadership by calling out some rules of engagement in all grocery stores for the rest of the world to follow. Some of the best included:

  • I am not hiding any stock in the back room.
  • I am not making you wait outside the store for fun. I’m trying to protect everyone so we can provide safe place to shop without overcrowding.
  • I am sorry you may have to wait at the checkout. You are going to have to be a little bit more patient and trust me, your abusive comments to our cashiers don’t make them work faster.
  • Our teams are exhausted and scared too. When you see our staff taking a break, leave them alone. They more than deserve that break.

But what really caught my attention was the fact she volunteered to be squarely in the face of the disease. I reached out to her to understand why. Her reason was gut-wrenchingly poignant.

“I’ll be honest, since I started serving at the frontlines, the first thought in my mind when I wake up has been ‘Can I do it again today?’ I’ve been a store manager a few years ago, but despite that experience, these last few weeks have been by far been the most challenging times that test the limits of both my physical and emotional capital. There’s a big part of me that is scared about how exposed I feel as we serve and interact with hundreds of customers daily. (Another confession, I didn’t even tell my mother I’m working at the stores because she’ll worry too much for the same reason.) But, there’s a bigger part of me that knows that I will regret it if I didn’t make the choice to be here and now. I know I’m privileged to volunteer – I’m in good health, not in a household with young children or anyone with compromised immune systems. I have a team at the office that is willing to pull extra weight to allow for my absence from my daytime job. Overcoming my fear rewards me with so much gratitude every day, and I know I’ll look back to these times with pride.”

Kim demonstrates a mesmeric level of selfless leadership for many to emulate.

A big kudos to all four leaders: Robert, Santiago and Angie. You are setting a great example of caring and empathic leadership, one I wanted to ensure the world knew about.

Selfless leaders like you will always win a street fight with a selfish leader.

Watch this column for more hidden hero treasures from those leading their teams during the pandemic crisis.

PS. Launching September 29, Dan’s 4th book: LEAD. CARE. WIN. How to Become a Leader Who Matters. You can pre-order now via Amazon.

More information about the book can be found on the microsite.

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