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

About the Writer

Emily Stone is the senior editor at Kellogg Insight.

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