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The Great Resignation, BLM, and How to Provide Better Leadership

by Shalini Gupta, Managing Director, RAPP Chicago 

What is leadership? To me, true leadership is the ability to move a team in a common direction to achieve a common goal. But perhaps the definition of leadership needs to evolve. Given the highly dynamic environment we live in, endless parenting challenges, crippling social pressure and so much more, maybe it’s not enough to simply move in a common direction. To be a successful leader during these trying times, the health and stability of the team are paramount.

As we know too well, the past couple of years have been extremely challenging for leaders. Those in leadership roles have had the ongoing responsibilities of keeping our teams motivated and serving our clients — balancing ever-shifting business priorities all while adapting to unprecedented circumstances. Being a leader in normal circumstances was already difficult, but adding these incremental societal dynamics has really challenged us on how to be effective directives.

"The Great Resignation," Black Lives Matter, the Me Too Movement and subsequent pandemic-related challenges have combined to take an emotional toll on most of us. It has been a very trying time both personally and professionally for me. We have had to adapt to new social norms with the pandemic and understand the long-overdue ramifications of the Black Lives Matter movement. These profound changes to how we live have sparked some deep reflection. With deep reflection, we see big cultural shifts and changes in personal priority, and we’re seeing that manifest on how many of us want to live our lives moving forward.

In fact, 46% of full-time employed U.S. adults are either actively looking for or considering a new job search, and 56% of those individuals have indicated that remote work and flexible working hours are a priority. With nearly everyone reflecting about how they want to work, and job resignations reaching an all-time high, it’s important for leaders to be intentional in relating to their teams on a personal level to better understand how to retain talent and inspire greatness.

That mission underscores the importance of empathetic leadership. The biggest lesson learned since the pandemic descended upon our lives is that if you don’t start with the health and wellness of your people, no other priorities will come to fruition. Period. Before you can really take care of people, you need to understand how each individual has been affected by these chaotic times, what challenges are facing them on a daily basis, and how to guide each individual part so that the entire team feels supported and heard.

From personal experience, my team at RAPP is closer than ever, even though many of us have never met in person. It’s been incredible to watch us all become more resilient, respectful creatures over the past 18 months. We have learned to trust each other implicitly, which has been built through action and acknowledgment of the challenges we face day-to-day.

When you can no longer walk the halls and see the faces of colleagues every day, you have to find new and innovative ways to connect with your teams. Reaching out regularly and connecting during informal and formal sessions goes a long way. You never want teammates to feel isolated and alone. Overcommunication is way, way better than too little discussion and collaboration. Don’t be afraid to directly ask how to be a better support to those you lead. And don’t hesitate to share your concerns, either. Effective communication is a two-way street.

Being vulnerable can be hard for leaders, but it’s critical. We are all human, and the pressures of the past two years have tested us all. There have been many moments where the pressure spiked and the challenges seemed insurmountable. But appreciating these common challenges, sharing your own personal struggles openly, being authentic and acknowledging what frightens you is OK. Heck, it’s expected.

We’re not robots, but we are expected to perform. The priorities of leadership are evolving, and the lines between team and leader are blurring — in a good way. Let’s keep that evolution moving forward by surrounding ourselves with strong individuals who have the same values so we can further scale the trust, empathy, and care required to take care of the overall teams we lead.