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Leadership in a changing world

By face or by screen, considerations for you

Laura Boyd | October 2020 Footnote

Editor's note: Updated September 30, 2020

We are in a moment of massive and ever-evolving change.

No part of everyday life is as it was even seven months ago. As a result, the ways we interact have also changed — not just in maintaining a distance of 6 feet from one another and wearing a mask to keep our communities safe.

Increasingly, managers and team leaders are realizing that videoconferences are here to stay. The good news is most CPA firms, accounting and finance departments were already exercising their ability to be productive working from home. However, leading virtually (or even hybrid) in today’s environment is quite different than leading in an office structure surrounded by team members.

Many CPAs are wondering how to continue leading effectively and inclusively in this new work situation. If this sounds familiar, keep reading for ways you can lead with intention and help your team continue to do its best.

Acknowledge the new reality

In uncertain and stressful times such as these, it can help to remember that we are all in this together. Leaders play a vital role in helping guide and support their employees in a kind and compassionate way. Everyone on your team deals with this situation differently; where possible, allow and empower your team to decide for themselves how to work in the way that best suits them. For example, flexible schedules that allow for working from home can go a long way in relieving stress for an employee who must care for others on top of fulfilling their regular duties.

Practice compassionate leadership

Leaders need to keep in mind that every person’s situation is unique and that stressors may be more acute and plentiful. For example, leaders cannot know who on their team has vulnerable loved ones who are at higher risk of illness, or who suffer from enhanced anxiety due to the state of the world. Leading with compassion and empathy is now more critical than ever.

However, leaders should practice self-compassion during this time, as well. Be honest about how you are feeling and seek support. This is the time to be your most caring self in your role as a leader, to yourself and your employees. Taking care of yourself will allow you to be a responsive — not reactive — leader, which is now more vital than ever.

How to practice compassionate leadership virtually

Because most interactions have gone virtual, being a compassionate leader now includes being mindful of the fact that virtual meeting fatigue is real. When leading meetings, it’s up to you to have a clear plan and desired outcomes.

The following guidelines will ensure that your meetings are productive while still being respectful of people’s time:
  • Have meetings on the same day at the same time whenever possible.
  • Define roles ahead of time instead of assigning them at the beginning of a meeting.
  • As a leader, you should sign in five minutes early.
  • Every attendee will have their camera on.
  • All will participate. For team members who you know are introverted, you can let them know ahead of time so that they can prepare themselves.
  • When not speaking, each person should mute their microphones.
  • Keep meetings less than 90 minutes in duration whenever possible.
Additionally, leading a team in this unprecedented time means looking for the unseen and listening for the unsaid during meetings.

For some of your team members, particularly the extroverted ones, suddenly working from home means that they have lost the daily interpersonal interaction with their colleagues that once energized them. For such team members, their level of engagement and productivity may be suffering.

When an employee begins to disengage, you will see:
  • Changes in behavior.
  • Withdrawing from conversation.
  • Shorter fuse with you and co-workers.
  • Stiff or closed-off body language.
If you observe these signs in employees who were formerly engaged and productive, request one-on-one virtual check-ins or phone calls with them. Be vulnerable and transparent — and offer to help in any way that you can.

Continue to adapt

Despite the strange times we live in, you can still lead your team to their best work. However, in many ways, our current and post-pandemic world is shaping up to be a new frontier for leaders that will force many of us to continue to adapt to changing needs. As such, it will require leaders to be even more skilled in mindfulness and intention. This is far easier said than done.

Laura Boyd is the CEO and founder of Leadership Delta (, a leadership consulting and development firm. She has worked in professional services for more than 25 years. You may reach her at or 612-481-0233.