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The Rise of the Empathic Leader

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, leadership has been put to the test. During the last year, leaders have had to adjust the way they lead their people by finding innovative ways to connect with them and influence them. Below are excerpts from interviews with leaders from various organisations providing insight into how they have managed to lead their people effectively despite the circumstances.

Mathias Katamba - CEO, dfcu Bank

The pandemic made us focus more on people. As leaders, we have had to be more empathetic and consider what people maybe dealing with at an individual level. In an environment where we do not have full visibility of how one’s time is spent we have to be mindful of all the different things that come with working from home. In a normal working environment, people leave home, go to work, deal with the work environment, then go back home and take a break from work, but at the height of the pandemic work and home were the same place. As a result, we had to manage mental health while also being considerate of our people and continuing to develop and prepare them for the future.

Kihara Maina - CEO, I&M Bank Kenya

We had to think about how to protect our people first and foremost, because doing so meant that we had a good chance of also protecting the business. We had to strategise about this in the context of a business continuity area that people had never really thought about. It is not about just simply being able to get to work, or continuing to work, but it is also about other factors that perhaps were not dealt with on a regular basis, such as mental health. As a result, we had to do a lot of listening, cooperating and ensuring that we quickly put in place the necessary measures and new approaches for business continuity to take place.

Akhona Qengqe - Chief People & Transformation Officer, Yum!

There has been greater connection with our teams as a result of more frequent communication and a lot of cross-functional work. As leaders, we have had to provide greater clarity and direction to our teams to ensure that they understand what is expected of them and can perform their tasks well. Leaders have also had to drive a lot of accountability. When you are working remotely and cannot see the people you work with as much as you normally would, the only way to manage and ensure high performance is by giving people the autonomy they need to carry out their tasks effectively and efficiently as well as remain motivated while holding them accountable.

Adekunle Rosiji - Executive Director, Lexcel Group

Everything has changed. Usually, I have an open-door policy for my office, but nowadays my interactions are focused on the top team such as the other directors, general managers who report directly to me. Below those top two levels of the organisation, my interaction has become very minimal, which is not my usual style of operating. However, this has made the chain of command more aligned and operate the way it should, which has made us make faster and better decisions. We have had to trust ourselves and our people more than we normally would. As they say, “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together”.

Benson Adenuga - Coverage Director & Head of Nigeria Office CDC Group

We always talk about people being our biggest assets, and in an investment company that is as real as anything. What this pandemic did was to increase the level of awareness of staff welfare, and the importance of that, for productivity. If your people are struggling, how do you support them? Many people are at home. So how do you effectively manage virtual teams? Some people are feeling very lonely, others are struggling with working in a domestic environment and others are dealing with a loss. So as leaders, we had to coordinate all of that; ensure that the organisation continues to function effectively, and that people’s mental health is also duly considered.


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