Posted in: thought leadership

19th March 2020

A Call for Compassionate Leadership in Times of Crisis

By Halla Tómasdóttir

There are few words that adequately capture the pain and devastating toll this global pandemic has brought to our families, our communities and to ourselves. My heart is with those suffering the worst of the coronavirus crisis. We are all searching for ways to cope and to meet this global challenge, while caring for the safety and well-being of our loved ones.

Navigating times of crisis is one of the greatest challenges leaders face. And today, leaders face a multitude of interrelated systemic crises—from climate change to the coronavirus outbreak—all in an era of low trust and broken social contracts in many parts of the world. This requires a different approach to leadership, one that places humanity at its heart. Now, more than ever, leaders must do everything in their power to protect the health and safety of their employees, customers and communities. These times call for us to tap into our empathy and stand in solidarity.

As our world continues to change and we face prolonged uncertainty, fear and distress, we fortunately also witness examples of courageous and compassionate leadership. People are coming together to help their neighbors and, importantly, many business leaders are taking a people-centric approach. Salesforce has pledged to continue to pay their hourly service providers even as they are increasingly unable to come to work. Salesforce will also donate $1.5M to San Francisco’s Give2SF fund to support vulnerable people and local businesses. In New York, Chobani has partnered with Governor Cuomo, Feeding America Westchester and the National Guard to deliver meals to families in need.

Companies are looking at how to use their core assets to be in service. Zoom is making their video conferencing tools free for schools and classes from kindergarten through high school. REI and Patagonia have closed all stores as precautionary measures while still providing pay for all employees. There are many, many more examples unfolding every day this crisis continues.

We’re also seeing promising commitments and collaboration for broader relief. To support and fast track the development of a treatment for the virus, Mastercard has partnered with The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Wellcome to launch a $125M accelerator fund—and they are encouraging others to join. The COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator will coordinate research and development efforts and remove barriers to treatment development. Mastercard’s contribution to finding a global solution to this crisis reinforces its commitment to inclusion and collaborative innovation.

These examples, and many more, reflect a true stakeholder perspective—an approach that many business leaders have spoken of in recent times, but we now need to see in practice.

We can’t always predict the challenges we face in life or in business, but we can determine the type of leaders we want to be when these situations arise. Moments of uncertainty and big challenges call for real leaders to show up and ask: who do we choose to be?

The decisions we make now determine the future for generations to come. We need purpose-driven and principled leadership inside and outside of our organizations. Such turbulent times call for us to be bold and brave and respond to the urgency of the moment with creative and compassionate solutions. They also call for us to collaborate widely between business, government and civil society to come up with long-term and inclusive solutions for the future we want and need. With the well-being of people as our priority, we can transform the way we do business and design our economies to again allow for shared prosperity for all.