Brian, was the CEO of a medium-sized business for 20 years. He worked tirelessly to build a profitable and successful company.
When the Covid-19 Pandemic first hit, he dismissed its possible impact on the business and encouraged his people to keep doing what they had always done. But in less than a month, the sales pipeline dried up, his entire company was forced to work from home, and the momentum they built early in the year came to a screeching halt.
Instead of confronting the problems head-on, Brian made two very different decisions. He created strict check-in's for his remote staff and laid off a substantial number of employees, including his long-time Chief Operating Officer, with little to no emotion.
The result was a company culture that was devastated. The reason is simple: Brian forgot about the humanity involved in leadership.
While there is no denying the financial pressures Covid-19 has had on many businesses, great leaders know they are leading people, not just managing numbers. Managers allow metrics to be their maestro.
Leaders focus on the humans who produce the metrics.
Great Leaders Provide Us a Blueprint
Brian Chesky is the CEO of Airbnb, a travel company, and a Silicon Valley darling. No industry has been hit harder in the Pandemic than the travel industry. He told Yahoo Finance recently, "We spent 12 years building our business and within six weeks lost about 80% of it." For most leaders, this would have been enough for them to run for the hills and beg for mercy.
But not Chesky. Instead, he highlighted part of his strategy in a recent podcast interview with Eric Ries on the Out of Crisis Podcast.
- Defined principles for dealing with crisis
- Increased his communication to employees and all stakeholders 2x-3x normal communication patterns
- Created clarity for every meeting (manage stakeholders, raise money, diversify business, cut cost)
- Cut 1,900 employees
I know what you are thinking. How can you highlight Chesky as a great leader when he let go of 1,900 employees? Well, it's in the layoffs where he provides the leadership lesson we all need to remember. He said, "Just because you are confronted with a layoff, it doesn't mean you can't do it in a thoughtful and compassionate way." He continued later: "Now, more than ever, we need leaders who are compassionate."
A Time To Be Compassionate
Before someone can be compassionate during a crisis, layoffs, a pandemic, or any other time for that matter, it's essential to be clear on what compassion means. It's defined in Webster's as "sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it."
Simply put, a deep concern for others followed up by actions.
Airbnb laid off 1,900 employees with compassion as a purpose-driven organization that values their employees. The company provided tremendous support with severance, equity, health insurance, and job support above and beyond anything I have ever seen done before. Chesky highlighted all of these in a detailed note sent to all employees, which was published on their website and has been viewed over a million times.
I have studied some of the best leaders on the planet, and Chesky's example of compassionate leadership is one we all should learn from and emulate. Even if you don't have to show compassion in layoffs, here are some other areas employees are struggling with currently where you should consider leading with compassion:
- Parents who have kids not going back to school because of Covid-19
- Loneliness or depression
- Financial struggles
- Strained marriages
Saying this Pandemic has been challenging would be a massive understatement. It has been said, "There are good times, there are bad times, and there is right now," and I couldn't agree more. Lean into the human part of leadership and lead with compassion. Have a deep concern for others, and show it through your actions.
Others might not be able to give back exactly what you will give them in the moment, but they will never forget your compassion.
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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company making virtual training easy and effective. He was named one of LinkedIn's Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success and host of the "Follow My Lead" Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today's leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.