Leading in the New Normal

As we face history-defining moments for public health, the economy, and equality, innovative leadership has never been more necessary. Qualities that predominate in female executives—resilience, adaptability, collaboration, and creativity—have given us the opportunity to shine in the face of unprecedented uncertainty. I’m embracing the unknown and taking a flexible and agile approach to how I work with people, how I leverage technology, and how I strategically approach the business. As Cisco’s CEO Chuck Robbins said recently, “Some of the most challenging times in history have been the catalyst for some of the world’s greatest innovation.”

As we face new and unique challenges, I’ve learned that people react very differently in the face of crisis. Leading with empathy and compassion has never been so important. In addition to my regular cadence of All-Hands and staff meetings, I’m leveraging Cisco’s WebEx technology to increase touch points with my employees in a multitude of ways—more small-group check-ins on video, video-on-demand recordings, and increased communication through email, TeamSpace, and instant messaging.

With all employees working from home, though, it’s giving way to 14-hour days with few breaks. Emphasizing the importance of creating balance, avoiding burnout, and having fun is also critical! I now start meetings with a round robin check-in on how everyone is doing or begin with a scavenger hunt or trivia game, and sometimes we do the entire meeting while walking outside wearing headphones. It’s a great way to get people to relax and have fun—it also spurs energy and creativity. Giving all employees a “Day on me” day off also helps! Cisco has implemented weekly check-ins with all employees globally and tackled injustice head-on with multiple communications highlighting the role each of us plays in working toward an inclusive future for all.

To paraphrase a familiar quote, we’re not letting this challenge go to waste and are rethinking how we get work done and how we engage with our customers, partners, and employees. How I plan for and run the business has fundamentally changed. Shorter planning cycles and increased scenario planning gives me the ability to turn on a dime and react in different ways, depending on yet unknown circumstances. The current crisis has given us a new vision for our business strategy.

As we emerge from these challenging times into the new normal, these lessons will continue to influence my leadership style: face the unknown with courage; adapt in real time; lead with empathy and compassion; and always look forward, no matter what the environment around us looks like.