My Pandemic Experience Made Me a Better Leader

The pandemic has caused me to make more time for personal conversations with my colleagues; the isolation and stress we experienced as a result of the pandemic made me realize how important our in-person interactions are.

As the person appointed to lead our office of 400 people, I was challenged to recreate an office culture that was no longer defined by being physically present in the same space, but would help us get through an unprecedented period of stress, personal loss, and uncertainty. To do that, I sought to create a dialogue that was personal, positive, inclusive, and affirming. I worked to become more intentional about making time and space for personal interaction, even via Zoom. I had to share more of myself in my work relationships and be willing to talk about the challenges the pandemic and quarantine had created for me, and how I was dealing with them (and admitting when I was not dealing with them well).

I took the “water cooler” chatter to the group, letting people know what I was doing with my non-work time and asking about what they were doing—what shows or movies they liked, what cooking successes they had had—and joking about our respective diet failures. As I shared more about myself, my colleagues became open to telling me more about what was going on with them, which became critical during the most stressful periods of the pandemic and allowed us to feel connected to one another, even when we were only seeing one another through screens. It also allowed me to make leadership decisions based on what people were experiencing at the time, not on how we have operated traditionally.

This experience has taught me how to be more empathetic, flexible, inventive, and appreciative. I hope that I can retain what I have learned going forward, even when we have returned to a new “normal.”