Why A Supportive Leadership Style is Critical During COVID-19

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It is often said people are our most valuable resource. In the Technology space, this is especially true. It’s the people behind the technology – behind the products, the data, and the ecosystems – that enable us to better understand and navigate the world, our customers, and our impact.

In times of turbulence, it’s more important than ever to design a leadership experience that supports our people: To ensure our people have a supportive, safe, and constructive environment to make magic in.

One of the courses I teach is “Executive Leadership Through Support.” I start the course by having the class differentiate between a manager and a leader. Managers are task-oriented; they focus on short-term goals, delegate tasks, and enforce policy. They manage schedules, workflows, and projects. Leaders, on the other hand, are big picture thinkers. They set vision and long-term goals, inspire loyalty to the vision, and drive a culture of enthusiasm and over-delivery. It’s this list of leadership traits I then use to structure the course.


Robert Greenleaf, father of the term “Servant Leadership,” defines empathy as the second pillar of actualization: “Servant leaders strive to understand others, anticipate the needs and thoughts of others, and share the feelings of others.”

Christine Ayuso, Project Manager at Kinesso, exemplifies empathy every day. When Christine is posed a question, she often responds “I’m putting my Jen hat on.” When she writes an email, Christine considers the audience and how her words will make the recipient feel. She keeps the length short and the tone approachable.

The impact of COVID-19 has changed our communication styles; it’s resulted in longer days, more emails, more meetings, heightened stress. When Christine takes the time to anticipate what people will think and feel, and to make her communications succinct – we know that she is putting herself in our shoes (or hats) and placing a high value on our time. That ability to understand all the circumstances surrounding our day makes Christine a great leader. When she speaks, people listen. They know she is considering them. Christine’s ability to lead empathetically ensures we are all following her now during this difficult time and will continue to do so in the future. 

Build Trust

A primary way to build trust is follow-through. Good leaders ask for input, identify a plan of action, and follow-through to completion. Demonstrating follow-through to your teammates shows them that you are reliable, you value their input, and most importantly – builds trust.

A national Gallup Poll showed that “the chances of employees being engaged at work when they do not trust the leaders are just one in 12.” When they do have trust, though, there is more than a one in two chance of engagement.

Ian Johnson, Chief Operating Officer of Kinesso, is perhaps the best trust-builder I have ever had the pleasure to work with. Recently, Ian and I were discussing some ways to cultivate bolder team member contribution. During the course of this conversation, Ian identified some solutions and next steps. And then he followed through. Ian scheduled time with me to discuss what he had done and what he was going to do – I was blown away! Ian is not responsible to me – I am, in fact, responsible to him.

Ian took time out of his day to go above and beyond a quick email and have a follow up conversation with me. This is amazing leadership in the best of times. We are not, as we know, in the best of times. During all of this, Ian was changing roles, leading a COVID-19 Task Force, and prepping for operational changes to manage COVID-19 for Kinesso.

In addition to having the confidence that my voice matters, Ian has now elicited a sense of great respect and trust from me. Knowing that Ian will follow-through, I can better manage my communications to be respectful of his time. Trusting that he will see things through, I know I can make my communications pointed and solution-oriented.

A Watson Wyatt study showed that organizations with high-trust outperform low-trust ones by almost 300 percent. The net-net: Trust has a direct correlation to business results.


Harvard Business Review article, “Employees Who Feel Love Perform Better,” cited a study surveying 3,201 employees in seven different industries. The study found that employees who felt they worked in a caring culture had higher levels of job satisfaction and teamwork than those who did not. Those workers also acknowledged an increased commitment to their organizations and accountability for their performance.

A good leader rarely takes credit. Instead, they elevate those around them who have done good work and helped them get to where they are. This humility and servitude go a long way in making sure your team members feel supported, encouraged, and trusted. They will take pride in their work knowing you take pride in them.

I make sure to thank my teammates every time I am impressed with their work. Whether it be by email, Slack, or in a meeting. More than that, I let them know why I liked their work – perhaps it provided excellent utility, unearthed a valuable insight, or just made a user smile.

In Designing Positive Psychology: Taking Stock and Moving Forward, Emmons and Anjali Mishra discuss how gratitude lowers stress. They also found that “gratitude enhances effortful goal striving.”

In addition to thanking people for their work in the good times, I thank them for their work during difficult times. And we are in a very difficult time.

Tensions are high, stress is high, uncertainty is high. One thing I can do to help provide certainty and ease stress is to thank my team members for making it through a difficult meeting, day, or week with me. At the end of particularly stressful weeks, I send individual emails to my team thanking them for bringing something unique to the table. To that end, thank you Sara, Emily, and Wally for all of your amazing work!

Psychology Professor Paul T. P. Wong of Tyndale University College in Toronto states that “Leaders that use the Servant Leadership style tend to gain a great deal of respect and trust from their employees.”

Fraser Sherman builds on this in The Advantages of the Servant Leadership Style by saying that “the strong positive feelings between management and employees that the Servant Leadership style promotes translate into a high sense of morale. When employees are satisfied with their jobs and their company, workplace productivity rises.”

During this unprecedented time, there are ample opportunities to inspire, build trust, and demonstrate authenticity. To lead in a supportive way through empathy, commitment, and gratitude.

Giving thanks is an easy one to start with. I encourage each of you to reach out to someone today and thank them. It doesn’t have to be a direct or indirect report – it can be someone above you, around you, next to you. Thank them for something and maybe, in return, they might thank you!

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