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Leading through COVID: Manage Your Team with Empathy

In this series, we talk with Yale SOM alumni about their professional and personal lives during the global pandemic. Laszlo Bock ’99, founder and CEO of Humu and former head of People Operations at Google, says that right now, checking in on how your team members are doing is the most important thing you can to keep your organization productive.

Graphic showing empathy in business
Sean David Williams

Adapted from an email, April 3, 2020 

In recent weeks, organizations—including Humu—have had to make historic shifts. Every leader, manager, and employee I’ve spoken with is stressed, overwhelmed, and uncertain about the future. And on top of work, many are learning to homeschool their children, coping with the loss of a loved one, or simply grieving their old lives.

In the short term, leaders need to prioritize empathy. That means letting go of your agenda at the start of every interaction. You don’t dive into action items. You just listen. Here’s the thing: people who are scared are not going to be productive or move in any kind of cohesive direction. The human thing, the kind thing, is to start every conversation with the simple question: “How are you? I just want to check in on you.” Right now, showing empathy is the most important thing you can do for productivity, performance, innovation, retention—for any meaningful outcome.

In the longer term, we’re helping our customers invest in the resilience of their people. That means creating clear processes, reconnecting team members, and reminding everyone of their shared values. When facing a crisis, organizations need to adapt quickly to support employees, mitigate productivity dips, and innovate by taking smart risks. It’s not just about having a plan—it’s about readying people for change. Resilience is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s an imperative for business continuity. 

Department: Feature