Leading through Crisis with Compassion

By Jennifer Grazel
Published June 12, 2020 | 2 min read

From the rapid global spread of the coronavirus pandemic to social unrest from systemic racism, 2020 has presented historic challenges for organizations and individuals to navigate. Jennifer Grazel, Head of U.S. Brand and Marketing at RBC Capital Markets, explains how leading with compassion, empathy, and shared emotions will carry us through even the most challenging circumstances.

No amount of previous experience or training could have prepared business leaders for the events of recent months. The physical and psychological impact of coronavirus, and the global response to systemic racial injustice, cannot be overstated.

Responding to change has become the only constant, as business leaders, on a daily basis, face new and emerging challenges. We are laying track as the train rolls, navigating the impact on our organizations and, above all else, seeking to prioritize the health and wellbeing of our people.

In my approach to supporting my team through these times, I am continually learning and drawing from a guiding philosophy of radical humanism.

Radical humanism as a roadmap

I believe strongly that driving any kind of desired change begins with compassion and understanding. This view has never felt more relevant. Radical humanism is now a guiding philosophy across our firm, built upon core values of transparency, communication and integrity. We understand that putting people first promotes, protects and strengthens our culture, so we can align business transformation with personal growth.

A recent report from McKinsey highlights that shifting from “command and control” leadership to a less hierarchical and more inclusive structure is crucial in times of crisis. By empowering decision-making, leadership enables agility and innovation, and creates trust. The same article also underlines the importance of calm, empathy and optimism – “making a positive difference in people’s lives”.

Benefits of leading with radical humanism:

  • Engaging clients in the process
  • Mobilizing and enabling a global workforce
  • Identifying and implementing new technologies, processes and innovations
  • Driving business value and trust
  • Growing revenue stability and gains
  • Increasing diversity and inclusion

Aligning personal values with business practices

We are very far from business as usual. Typical solutions to temporary disruptions are no longer applicable.  Our organization is rapidly and radically reimagining the way we work, and in particular how we support employees through upheaval and hardships.

For me personally, radical humanism has enabled me to bring my whole self to my leadership position, with all my strengths, but also my vulnerabilities. As a Latina woman who had a transient childhood, never feeling as if I fit in, I care deeply about diversity and inclusion and aligning personal values with business practices.

Numerous business leaders have now expressed their position on racism and are setting out action plans to address gaps in their organizations. Many more are now putting financial support behind these statements, including RBC’s $1.5 million commitment to organizations including the NAACP and the Equal Justice Initiative.

Walking the talk

The required leadership response goes beyond statements from the top and conventional diversity initiatives. Support for teams needs to be guided by each individual, expressing solidarity with what matters to them, and actions must be clearly communicated, then taken forward. Accountability will be fundamental. As HBR states: “Without adequate support, minority employees are likely to perceive their environments as more interpersonally and institutionally biased against them.”

Leaders must be compassionate, bold, and brave, and most importantly visible in how they follow through on their promises. My hope for all of America in light of the tremendous global response to racial injustice is that we are on the cusp of required, and sustained, change. I equally acknowledge the role organizations like RBC have in being part of creating a more equitable society, and can see positive momentum building across the private sector.

By investing in racial equity, supporting community partnerships, becoming educated on legislative policies, and engaging in transparent and open dialogues with teams and clients every day, we can begin to create positive change for the future.

Jennifer Grazel

Jennifer Grazel
Managing Director and Head of U.S. Brand and Marketing