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  • Writer's pictureEdgehill Consulting Group

The Need for Skillful Leaders Is Greater Than Ever – You Are One, Be One

“To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.” - Eleanor Roosevelt

The coronavirus pandemic has upended society as we once knew it. It has also precipitated enormous business challenges: an economic recession, customer demand shifts, supply chain disruptions and unemployment to name a few. With so much uncertainty the need for strong leadership is greater than ever.  As organizations envision their steps towards recovery and new norms, leaders must be able to transform their organizations, enhance value creation, generate efficiencies and engage employees.

Edgehill Consulting recently held a virtual panel with four executives from Richmond, Virginia: Kim Bolger, Sr. Director Heritage Wealth Management; Tricia Rhodes, Chief Employee Experience Officer SingleStone Consulting; Khary Scott, VP Capital One; and Cindy Yao, CFO Markel Food Group. The panel provided valuable advice on leading through turbulent times and successfully laying the groundwork to navigate an uncertain future. 

The biggest theme to emerge from the conference:

Strong human connections are critical for leadership and organizational success.

While questions ranged from “What has been the biggest surprise to you in adapting your leadership style in the current environment?” to “How are you all thinking about the shifts in demand (whether temporary or permanent) that might come from this pandemic?” the answers all circled back to the same conclusion – building better connections and increasing communication with employees, colleagues and clients is vital right now. Tricia Rhodes from SingleStone Consulting summed up this theme perfectly at the end of the conference by quoting Maya Angelou: “People don’t remember what you did or said, but how you made them feel.”

To put this underlying theme into context here are a few examples from our Q&A session (note: the following answers are paraphrased):

Q: How is your company handling customer engagement and addressing the uncertain future with clients?

A: Kim Bolger (Sr. Director, Heritage Wealth Management): We are making phone calls, sending email and sharing philanthropic news stories. Certainty is kind of like an illusion. You have to trust people with the truth, knowing that the truth might change over time. Part of trusting with truth is acknowledging that you don’t know. People like choices. In times like this, people truly care more about human connection than about the money in their portfolios. In fact, our client conversations have become richer and deeper during this crisis.

A: Khary Scott (VP, Capital One): You must keep talking to them. This recession is different than others because it involves an involuntary health element. Friends will always remember friends who checked on them during the pandemic – so will clients. We need to make a physical effort to reach out and stay in touch. The entire business chain needs to collaborate to generate new ideas and implement changes that will allow for future changes as needed.

Q: How do we build agreement with leadership to focus on the most important priorities right now?

A: Tricia Rhodes (Chief Employee Experience Officer, SingleStone Consulting): Leaders must offer permission and forgiveness during these times. There must be daily communications with colleagues and employees and brutal honesty. It is a time to “focus on the few” – prioritize and have everyone marching in the same direction. 

A: Cindy Yao (CFO, Markel Food Group): Teammates need to know that leaders are in there with them. Companies must look internally for strength. The Chinese letter for crisis means danger and opportunity. Leaders must be optimistic and learn lessons together from this scenario. Leaders must be empathetic with colleagues and teammates.

As you can see this really was an amazing group of panelists who had wonderful insights for our virtual collaborative attendees.

As a boutique consulting firm, Edgehill strongly believes in the underlying theme that our panelists shared:

Strong human connections are critical for leadership and organizational success.

We treasure the relationships that we form with each of our clients and one of our favorite services that we offer is helping clients hone their leadership skills. Solid leadership development skills are fundamental building blocks without which organizational communication and mission breaks down. 

Here is a hypothetical situation:

Joseph is a self-made business man who started his now mid-sized business from nothing. In the company’s infancy, Joseph managed the books, conceptualized new product development, made in-person sales pitches to prospective clients, delivered finished goods to existing customers – he did it all. Over the years, Joseph hired a few employees to help him. They all worked closely with Joseph, shared his passions and things continued to grow quickly. In time more employees were hired and operations were divided into more traditional business departments. On the outside all continues to look good – Joseph’s business is large and is making money. So, what could be better? The problem is on the inside. Although money is still coming in, company morale is falling and employees at all levels are becoming somewhat disgruntled. Joseph knows that this type of culture makes the long-term outlook for his company less clear. 

How did Joseph’s company find itself in this situation? Simply put, a lack of investment in leadership development. While Joseph and top leaders were successful at making a profit in the early stages of the business, they did not focus on developing strong leadership skills in the managers or other new hires. Over time, this has led to apathy and discord. In addition, next level leaders have not become invested in the company vision. (This is a common problem in today’s world where generational values vary so widely!)

James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge, define leadership as “…the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations.” Just as our panelists discussed, this definition asserts that connecting with others is an essential piece of being a great leader and cultivating a successful organization.

After thousands of interviews, Kouzes and Posner established their Five Principles of Exemplary Leadership:

1. Model the way

2. Inspire a share vision

3. Challenge the process

4. Enable others to act

5. Encourage the heart

Each of these five practices is deemed essential for leaders to create true followership vs. simply “living off of” positional leadership (i.e. one’s title or seniority). For employees to be most effective in their roles they must understand the "why." And in our opinion, being able to inspire a shared vision is perhaps the single most important, albeit possibly the most challenging, job a leader can ever have.

In conclusion, strong leadership development is essential to company success. Skilled leaders fuel passion in the workplace thus creating higher performing teams, increasing sales and customer satisfaction, fostering long-term loyalty and enhancing motivation. In a world that has been turned upside by COVID-19, it is imperative to foster adept and resilient leaders. It is these able leaders, like our four panelists, who will expertly nurture human connections and keep businesses thriving into the future.

Today we need great leaders and strong human connections more than ever. Edgehill is happy to hone your personal leadership development toolset and your team’s – we know you all have the skills in there – let’s accelerate them!

Contact us at to explore our Leadership Accelerator program.

“Leadership is not a position but an energy that people love, trust and follow.” – Amit Ray

Lane Sanderson

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