Leaders not super-humans: supporting those who lead today for inclusive & empathetic workplaces!

Leading is hard.

Leading during a crisis like the pandemic, even harder.

Leaders struggled the most during this time.

Pushing themselves harder to be resilient and strong, supporting their organization and teams, while being adaptive to the new ways of working in a very ambiguous world.

In parallel they were also managing their personal and familial needs.

I recently did a search on ‘Traits of a good leader/manager’ and the list of traits and expectations that came up, was unending. The list has gotten longer post pandemic. This includes strategies to navigate disruptions, going fully virtual, then managing hybrid teams, expertise in handling mental health and wellness needs of their team among many other things. All this while meeting client expectations, revenue targets, critical business goals, running the operations of their team effectively, supporting everyone’s needs, and onboarding new folks.

So besides being experts in their domain or function here are a few in-built functionalities of a leader :)

Be creative, resilient, supportive, empathetic, compassionate, courageous, decisive, accountable, be influencers & visionaries, open-minded, adaptable, great at collaboration and communication, high on emotional intelligence, problem solvers, respectful, caring, strategic thinkers, good listeners, delegators etc. etc.

Don’t get me wrong, leaders need to lead by example, should care and guide their teams and need to possess many of the traits mentioned above.

But the expectation that leaders are a perfect, flawless species is a problem.

Leaders have flaws and make mistakes. They experience moments of weakness, vulnerability & pain. They have similar challenges as everyone else in their personal lives, they do experience physical and mental health concerns and the highs and lows that everyone else has.

Being a leader is an ongoing journey of learning and unlearning, there is never a point of perfection. This is the reality.

Empathy and compassion needs to be a two-way street.

What can be done to support leaders. Here are a few tips -

As individuals consider -

Trusting - Trust that they have the best intentions for you, the team and the organization in mind. They will have to make difficult decisions that may not always be consensus based. They have gotten this far by proving their capabilities, it’s time to give them that credit and trust. Research shows that a number of people across the world still don’t trust women to lead effectively. This distrust is deep-seated – and may be difficult to change. Watch how accepting you are of women leaders.

Offer support - Leading is always a stretch role, with multiple stakeholders, deadlines and priorities. Offer support especially during difficult times or when your lead is facing some personal challenges.

Ask - As transparent and open as leaders would like to be, sometimes information, updates may fall between the cracks, often leading to mis-understanding. This may not be intentional or a way to hide information from you, so ask and have open conversations.

Be Empathetic - Leaders have personal lives too, families and health concerns. Check in on them and show that you care. It matters!

Have boundaries - While we now talk of work life integration over work-life balance (this topic for another day:) Do note that leaders are NOT available to you 24/7. Be considerate.

Understand - Moving to new ways of working literally overnight, driving and supporting teams and individual needs and servicing clients during the pandemic, has been arduous. These experiences are as much new to them as it is to you, only that their role is tougher. Be understanding.

Offer support - Leading is always a stretch role, with multiple stakeholders, deadlines and priorities. How many times have you genuinely checked in on your leader, to see how they are doing. Beyond empathy, being compassionate matters.

Communicate with integrity - Undermining your leaders, not understanding the full context of a situation, blaming, being part of unhealthy negative gossip - pulls back the leader, the team and impacts its success. Be mindful, this has long term impacts.

Watch out for your bias - Especially when your leader/manager is a woman or from an under-represented group. For example - Hostile sexism and negative stereotypes of women leaders or beliefs that women are incompetent, overly emotional, aggressive etc. can adversely harm women leaders. Some behaviors when exhibited by male leaders are far better accepted. Question your biases.

HR/People Support/DEI teams -

Check-in - On your leaders. While you may have leaders reach out to you to support their team member needs, it's highly likely they are not seeking help for themselves. So do check-in.

Timely feedback - We often see that leaders are the last ones to receive feedback, but you will hear a lot of criticism behind their backs. This breeds an unhealthy culture. Proactively providing constructive feedback matters.

Mental Health and Wellbeing support - Research shows that today's leaders suffer from mental health and well-being issues, more than ever before. They often put the needs of their teams and the business before themselves. Offer customized support.

Coaching and Mentoring - Leaders are not perfect. Coaches help leaders/managers build emotional intelligence, with heightened self-awareness, empathy, and confidence. Professional coaches provide observations and feedback and assist leaders with developing strategies for personal improvement.

Leaders, Managers and anyone leading in any capacity -

Be kind to yourself - Show the same kindness to yourself that you show others, take care of yourself. This means knowing when to take that break, when to delegate, when to say no.

Have your boundaries - Leaders are expected to be available round the clock. On email, chat, whats-app, phone etc. This is an unfair expectation. Stop this asap, as it will lead to an unhealthy work life balance.

Be vulnerable - Share the challenges you face with your team. This could also include personal situations like an ailing family member or a wellness concern. This helps build empathy, compassion, trust and shows that you are courageous to be yourself, often encouraging similar behaviors from your team.

Support your cohort - Your journey here has been hard, but there are others across various levels of leadership that will need your empathy, support and mentorship. Offer your support, especially those who are under-represented in leadership roles.

Make mental health wellness a priority - Burnout is real, as you’ve experienced it. Prioritize your physical and mental health as this will lead to success, better relationships and an overall better quality of life.

Being a Leader is an ongoing journey of learning and unlearning, there is never a point of perfection. This is a reality we need to acknowledge.

And while you're at it dear leaders I missed mentioning that 'predicting the future’ is also a must have trait. Just kidding!

Leader = anyone who leads. This includes team-leads, project/program managers, functional leaders/managers to Business unit and C level leaders

P.S – This blog was written for Community NASSCOM and published on