By Tom de Kay
Most of us have felt frustration and anxiety this summer, as the early success of the vaccine rollout gave way to widespread hesitancy and the rise of new variants.
When Ken Banta asked Kristi Sorbello Frank and Viq Pervaaz about leading through this period, they agreed: it’s crucial for bosses to address those feelings head on, both in their people and in themselves.
Ken spoke with Kristi, who’s VP for Procurement and Business Services at Novo Nordisk, and Viq, a partner at EY, in a Vanguard Dialogue about how the pandemic has reshaped workplace leadership. You can see highlights in the video below.
For Kristi, reaching out to employees on a personal level is at least as important now as it was at the start of the pandemic.
There was that period where — while it wasn’t great — we all understood and agreed we were remote, and that that meant some level of certainty for folks. Now we’re in this period of, “Are we coming back? I’m not sure, can I come back? Do I want to come back?” I am a big proponent of frequent touchpoints — skip levels, skip-skip levels — with my team, just to see how things are going. And I do get a sense of anxiety and concern, particularly from colleagues who have people at home who are at risk, either elderly or children who can’t be vaccinated.
— Kristi Frank, VP for Procurement and Business Services, Novo Nordisk
Viq told Ken and Kristi that data show this kind of outreach has an “immense impact,” “far beyond” the effects of a spot award or other formal recognition. “There is a sense that ‘someone cares about me,’” he added. “The fact that people feel cared for in their personal lives and their professional lives is critical.”
Also crucial, Kristi said, is asking for “some grace” from employees, given that “we’ll probably make mistakes” in the effort to do right by everyone.
And Viq urged another kind of openness. At a crisis meeting early in the pandemic, he heard a senior leader say, “it’s just too much, I can’t handle this anymore,” which led to “a conversation around, ‘Okay, let’s realize that we’re also part of this.’” The lesson for him: “Leaders are not superheroes.”
I want to be clear: That doesn’t mean that we don’t lead. But [it does speak to] the manner in which we lead — through vulnerability, through empathy, through providing behaviors that can be emulated, through storytelling, through connecting with our people. Through doing what Kristi does, which is calling skip-skip levels and saying, “Hey, how are you, I don’t want to talk about work. I’m calling to find out how you are.” [Those], to me, are going to be the capabilities — outside of our foundational leadership capabilities that we all possess and excel at — we truly need to integrate as we move into this new era.
— Viq Pervaaz, Partner and Health Sciences Leader, EY
Ken Banta is founder and principal of The Vanguard Network, which convenes C-Suite discussions around high-performance leadership, and advises top executives on leadership.
Kristi Frank is VP for Procurement and Business Services at Novo Nordisk.
Viq Pervaaz is a Partner and Health Sciences Leader at EY.