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Leadership seems to be going through an upgrade—call it leadership 2.0. With the tumult of the last eighteen months (if not more), agility and resilience were key in handling all the redefinitions of what is “normal” that were (and are) coming down the pike.

Leaders who embodied empathy and care—qualities inherent in having a high emotional intelligence—succeeded in creating and sustaining employee engagement, trust, cohesion, productivity, and loyalty during extremely challenging times. What are the benefits of leading with care and responsibility versus command and control? What are the impacts on the company, the employees, the leaders themselves, and even the community at large? And lastly, how does one lead with care, especially during challenging times when stress and fear are high?

When first meeting Blandine Lacroix, two things are obvious: her energy and her passion. As a single mom and a busy executive at the biopharma company Novo Nordisk, her plate is more than full. She attributes her seemingly endless energy supply to being a bioproduct of her leadership style—leading with care and responsibility—an approach that she uses not only at work but in her personal life as well. If “power over” is becoming an outmoded energy source, how can we tap into “power with” to fuel better companies, more engaged and fulfilled employees, and happier personal lives?

Empathy Versus Sympathy

Leaders are often faced with difficult decisions. They are tasked with building relationships with their employees and teams, and then they are often tasked with making decisions that can negatively impact those very same relationships. How does one lead without muting one’s personal values, and as Blandine powerfully describes it, acting in a way that makes you “die inside?” How do leaders retain their humanity, which is arguably the wellspring of creativity, energy, innovation, and fulfillment?

Instead of adopting a coping mechanism that makes one immune to the results of one’s difficult decisions (the “command and control” approach), or conversely, leaning on a lesser form of compassion known as sympathy, a leader can use empathy by systematically trying to put themselves in the shoes of their stakeholders (whether that is the company, the employee, or the customer—or all three). This often leads to better outcomes than originally envisioned.

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Making difficult decisions for Blandine is not a simple numbers game, nor is it an exercise confined to “left-brain thinking.” It’s a holistic approach that considers not only the financial cost, but the emotional and social cost to the people the decisions affect as well.

Blandine learned this early on from her father, who at the end of his leadership journey, was tasked with downsizing the steel mills he managed. In so doing, he came up with a “social plan” that considered what employees needed financially, in addition to the training required to help them transition to new vocations. “His example informed my core beliefs,” says Blandine.

Just as she learned this as a child, she models this for her daughter as well, particularly with setting clear boundaries around work and her private life. “It takes courage,” admits Blandine, who notes that not every leader employs the same approach—especially when they are as driven and passionate about their work as Blandine is.

But by employing empathy, Blandine puts herself in her daughter’s shoes so she can appreciate the kind of presence needed to be a fully engaged parent—while putting herself in her employee’s shoes in order to embody the kind of presence one needs to be a fully engaged leader. By clearly communicating these boundaries at work, she creates a win-win situation where both environments get the best from her, and she inspires others to do the same.

Leave the Title at the Door   

“I have no (status) walls around me and I’m in the middle of everything,” says Blandine, who is not speaking metaphorically (although it probably applies), but rather, literally. Blandine does not have, nor does she want the type of office or other type of status symbols that are often associated with the “formal power and authority” status of her position.

She prefers to remain readily accessible to better create strong connections essential to mutual trust and respect. “I am defined by my actions, not my title nor the size of my office,” adds Blandine, who also uses this approach in talent recruitment, homing in on an applicant’s scope of experience, studies, and activities rather than relying on the name of an elite university or diploma.

Leaving the title at the door means that when Blandine enters the room, she enters with what she calls her “scope of responsibility” defined by the decisions she needs to own, the way she relates to others, the way she carries herself, and what she concerns herself with. This is a more authentic form of power than leading with titles and other material dressings of authority.

The Takeaway

Leading with care and responsibility engenders a different form of power, something that Blandine calls “social activation power.” This power is resilient and universal; it works in all cultures, frames of reference, and circumstances and allows leaders to adapt to every environment successfully. This is the leadership style for today’s new normal and tomorrow’s because one thing is for certain: change is a constant. Care and responsibility transform the potential chaos, fear, and uncertainty of change into the landscape for creativity, opportunity, and innovation, where ultimately, everybody comes out ahead.

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