A Pastor (and Management Professor) on Taking Care of Your Team during the COVID-19 Crisis
Skip to content
Leadership Apr 20, 2020

A Pastor (and Management Professor) on Taking Care of Your Team during the COVID-19 Crisis

Share in their sacrifice. Don’t preach. And ask these three questions.

Man speaks in virtual meeting with laptop

Lisa Röper

Based on insights from

Nicholas Pearce

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of articles based on Kellogg Executive Education webinars focused on COVID-19.


When looking for a metaphor of what strong leadership looks like during the COVID-19 pandemic, it should come as no surprise that Nicholas Pearce lands on the image of a shepherd.

Learn more from Nicholas Pearce in Kellogg Executive Education’s Advanced Marketing Management, Driving Organizational Change, Leading for Impact within Family Enterprise, and Leading into the Future programs.

Pearce is both a clinical professor of management and organizations at Kellogg and assistant pastor at the 12,000-member Apostolic Church of God in Chicago. The leader as shepherd notion sits at the intersection of these worlds.

One key characteristic of shepherds is that they live among their flock. They don’t simply keep watch from a nearby hilltop. Or, as Pearce puts it, “you cannot tell me that you’re a shepherd and not smell like sheep.”

What does that mean for leading through a pandemic? “People want to see that you are willing to be in the situation with them,” Pearce says. For example, he praises corporate leaders who have volunteered to take a pay cut in order to buffer the impact on lesser-paid employees. They’re saying, according to Pearce, “‘I am willing to share in the sacrifice with you.’”

Pearce offered this and other advice to business leaders during a recent webinar from Kellogg Executive Education. His guidance is informed by his role as a leader within both the business world and faith community.

Take, for example, the notion of essential workers. Beyond first responders, today this includes supermarket clerks and warehouse custodians. “We need to really look around us and recognize that some of the people who are saving our lives and our way of life are the people that some of us look down on,” he says. “That person is worthy of respect. There is inherent dignity and sacredness to all human work.”

As businesses face the difficult decisions of layoffs or pay cuts, he urges leaders to keep this notion of our common value in mind. And that extends to labor traditionally considered unrelated to our jobs. For example, parents with kids at home are likely not as productive as they were six weeks ago. “But the reality is that focusing on the raising of their children is a different type of productivity that actually helps our society,” he says. The same goes for those caring for aging parents.

He also offers advice for how to check in with staff or colleagues in ways that get at their true state of mind instead of simply getting a reflexive, “I’m fine.”

“My first piece of advice would be to listen. This is not a time to preach at them,” he says, meaning don’t regale them with stories of how you survived the Great Recession or how the firm clawed its way through the Great Depression.

Instead, follow up with three targeted questions.

Ask, “How are you doing right now?” Pearce says. This acknowledges that our answers are changing minute by minute.

The question “What’s keeping you up at night?” lets you hear what is on someone’s plate right now that they’re trying to solve for. Perhaps you have a solution for them, but simply offering empathy may be enough.

Lastly, ask, “In what ways can I support you right now?”

“It’s a different question than ‘How can I help you?’ because help suggests that you have a deficiency or a deficit,” Pearce says. “But in this moment, everybody can use some support. No one hates support.”

You can watch the full webinar here and see previous articles from this series here.

Featured Faculty

Clinical Associate Professor of Management & Organizations

About the Writer

Emily Stone is the senior editor at Kellogg Insight.

Most Popular This Week
  1. What Happens to Worker Productivity after a Minimum Wage Increase?
    A pay raise boosts productivity for some—but the impact on the bottom line is more complicated.
    employees unload pallets from a truck using hand carts
  2. How to Get the Ear of Your CEO—And What to Say When You Have It
    Every interaction with the top boss is an audition for senior leadership.
    employee presents to CEO in elevator
  3. 6 Takeaways on Inflation and the Economy Right Now
    Are we headed into a recession? Kellogg’s Sergio Rebelo breaks down the latest trends.
    inflatable dollar sign tied down with mountains in background
  4. Which Form of Government Is Best?
    Democracies may not outlast dictatorships, but they adapt better.
    Is democracy the best form of government?
  5. When Do Open Borders Make Economic Sense?
    A new study provides a window into the logic behind various immigration policies.
    How immigration affects the economy depends on taxation and worker skills.
  6. How Has Marketing Changed over the Past Half-Century?
    Phil Kotler’s groundbreaking textbook came out 55 years ago. Sixteen editions later, he and coauthor Alexander Chernev discuss how big data, social media, and purpose-driven branding are moving the field forward.
    people in 1967 and 2022 react to advertising
  7. How Offering a Product for Free Can Backfire
    It seems counterintuitive, but there are times customers would rather pay a small amount than get something for free.
    people in grocery store aisle choosing cheap over free option of same product.
  8. Why Do Some People Succeed after Failing, While Others Continue to Flounder?
    A new study dispels some of the mystery behind success after failure.
    Scientists build a staircase from paper
  9. How Much Do Boycotts Affect a Company’s Bottom Line?
    There’s often an opposing camp pushing for a “buycott” to support the company. New research shows which group has more sway.
    grocery store aisle where two groups of people protest. One group is boycotting, while the other is buycotting
  10. 5 Takeaways on the State of ESG Investing
    ESG investing is hot. But what does it actually deliver for society and for shareholders?
    watering can pouring over windmills
  11. Could Bringing Your "Whole Self" to Work Curb Unethical Behavior?
    Organizations would be wise to help employees avoid compartmentalizing their personal and professional identities.
    A star employee brings her whole self to work.
  12. How Are Black–White Biracial People Perceived in Terms of Race?
    Understanding the answer—and why black and white Americans may percieve biracial people differently—is increasingly important in a multiracial society.
    How are biracial people perceived in terms of race
  13. What Went Wrong at AIG?
    Unpacking the insurance giant's collapse during the 2008 financial crisis.
    What went wrong during the AIG financial crisis?
  14. Why Well-Meaning NGOs Sometimes Do More Harm than Good
    Studies of aid groups in Ghana and Uganda show why it’s so important to coordinate with local governments and institutions.
    To succeed, foreign aid and health programs need buy-in and coordination with local partners.
  15. 3 Tips for Reinventing Your Career After a Layoff
    It’s crucial to reassess what you want to be doing instead of jumping at the first opportunity.
    woman standing confidently
  16. Immigrants to the U.S. Create More Jobs than They Take
    A new study finds that immigrants are far more likely to found companies—both large and small—than native-born Americans.
    Immigrant CEO welcomes new hires
More in Leadership