Leading with Decency in a Time of Crisis

Think Up Team


The changing environment surrounding COVID-19 has the entire world adapting to new norms. For me, the weight of leading is heavier now than it’s ever been. After nearly 20 years as a business owner, I’ve found two things are vital to leading well during times of uncertainty: understanding the mindset of your employees and leading with decency.

Understanding the Mindset of Your Employees

While many companies are feeling pressure to switch into survival mode, for me, it’s important to hold to the belief that the individuals who make up our organizations are real people with real-life challenges. To lead effectively in this climate, you have to know what your people are dealing with and ensure they know they are respected and feel valued. I’ve found merit in creating forums for our Thinkers to talk openly about how they’re feeling. A few weeks ago, we held what we call a Community Conversation, an optional meeting for associates to share their feelings surrounding COVID-19 and how it has affected them. The majority of our organization attended and shared.

While this type of conversation doesn’t always work within the context of some businesses, there are other ways to understand the mindset of your employees. In South Carolina, businesses are slowly opening up. Knowing everyone on our team is facing different circumstances with children, aging family members, and anxiety over what’s going on in the world, I wanted us to take a pulse check before making any set plans for returning to the office. We decided to create an open-ended survey giving our Thinkers a space to share specific concerns that we can then use to inform our plan for re-opening. If you’d like to see our simple approach, I have shared the questions we used in the survey for you to download here.

Leading with Decency

Recently, I read the term “decency quotient,” or DQ, in the context of leadership. Bill Boulding, Dean of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, talks about the term in this article, and I think it helps define something that I’ve believed about true leadership for a long time. Leading with decency means genuinely caring about the wellbeing of those you’re serving. In short, it means empathizing with and genuinely caring for those you lead. Just like emotional quotient (EQ) and intelligence quotient (IQ), DQ is a measure of your capability to lead. Since founding Think Up, my vision has always included a strong emphasis on culture. We value partnership and supporting one another as much as we value excellence in everything we do. Because of that, our team truly feels like a family, and I think that’s laid some important groundwork for us as we strive to come out of a difficult time even stronger than before. As we navigate whatever is on the horizon, it’s important to remember that DQ is as vital to the success of our organizations as IQ and EQ. Leaders have to authentically care about how the decisions they make affect their team. Even though some decisions may be difficult, DQ enables those choices to be motivated by compassion and empathy.

Understanding the mindset of the team, and leading with decency, empowers leaders to make balanced decisions—always, but especially right now. I can’t imagine a greater honor than leading a group of people who always assume the best in you, knowing you are trying to do everything in your power to do right by them. Whenever we reach the other side of this crisis, I hope our people can look back and believe we care for them as much as we do the success of our businesses.


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