Leadership, COVID-19 and Ms. Kennedy



“Don’t be afraid.”

The leader who says this to an employee either is very much afraid or lacks even a scintilla of empathy. In either case, the statement (or response) is so bad.

First, it is remarkably disrespectful. Don’t tell people how to feel!

Second, if employees listen to you, they may become ill (or worse). Fear is healthy now—it may keep us and those we care about safe as we social distance.

Third, the comment undermines whatever credibility the leader may have. I cannot think of a worse time to project dangerous bravado.

To be credible, leaders need to acknowledge their own vulnerability. Acknowledging one’s own concerns with and for others also may help mitigate them a bit, too.

I probably would not say, “I’m so afraid,” although it reminds me of halcyon days hearing Lindsay Buckingham perform live in 2019, a lifetime ago. I think of concerts to try to stay positive.

I would be comfortable saying, and have said: “I am very concerned, too.” I personally will stay more than 6 feet away from anyone who is not concerned about the pandemic, long after the pandemic is in the rearview window.

It’s also important to think about employees in terms of relationships and not manipulative employee relations. If you care about an employee, say so.

Of course, I would avoid saying to an employee “I love you.” I need some snark to survive.

But saying “you are important to me” is fine with me. Of course, employ a little common sense here, too. Context and relationships matter.

Ditch the foolish fearlessness, but not your humanity. As a teacher wrote in my high school yearbook: “always keep the feelings that temper the blade of logic.”

Ms Kennedy was the teacher. I just found her phone number.


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