Pre-COVID, executives in the corporate world earned a reputation for being overly focused on shareholders – usually at the expense of other stakeholders – like employees and the communities they operate in. Doing whatever it took to deliver this quarter’s financial results was a common refrain found in the hallways and meeting rooms of corporate Canada. Although the Triple Bottom line and Corporate Social Responsibility were slowly expanding, recent events have seismically shifted the context for leaders.
The pandemic and more recently the Black Lives Matter movement has fundamentally shifted today’s landscape. In mid-March leaders stepped up and put the health of their employees first. Then in May with the killing of George Floyd, leaders recognized the impact of their being silent in the face of wrong-doing and evil. Learning about the disproportionate impact COVID has had on people of colour and women, many leaders witnessed more impact of systemic racism and poverty. Some leaders realized in both their head and their heart that enough is enough – and concluded that it is time to step forward and make real change happen.
As an executive coach, I witnessed many leaders stepping up and seeking to truly understand these challenges both on a societal level and that of their team members. Since March they have worked to accommodate needs of families, had conversations on race that they had previously feared having and role modeled authentic leadership. They stepped up to the need to be compassionate and show their humanity while remaining humble. Whether it be sharing their concern for an ailing parent isolated in a Long-term Care Home or being a champion for flexibility in hours of work or reinvigorating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives. Progressive leaders are stepping up to the challenge.
Canadian Leaders are recognizing the need to more broadly consider all their stakeholders in a more balanced way. Seventy-one per cent of Canadian business leaders said the public is looking to them to play a greater role in addressing societal challenges, according to CEO Outlook. More than three-quarters of Canadian CEOs said they have a personal responsibility to be a leader for change on these issues. These responsibilities require broader awareness to see new possibilities for action and collaboratively create the fundamental changes required for our new world.
The world we live in when we emerge from this pandemic will be very different from pre-COVID. If leaders pause to connect with their hearts and reflect on and truly understand what they want to create in the world, they will emerge re-energized with newfound purpose positively impacting all their stakeholders.