What does it take to pivot a business quickly in times of crisis while keeping the employee in mind? Leading with humanity, focusing on inclusive leadership and adopting agile methodologies are critical skills to instill in leadership and across the organization to drive positive change with employees, customers and communities in difficult times.

Employees are looking to their leaders to navigate through turbulent and uncertain times with a focus on humanity, equity and agility. Now is the time for learning and development (L&D) departments to bring new training opportunities to the table, focused on amplifying skill sets that will better prepare leaders to manage in chaos.


The world is not what it was a year ago. From the COVID-19 pandemic to racial and social injustice movements taking place worldwide, it is impossible to deny these external forces’ impact on the workplace. Many organizations and their people are feeling the pain of this crisis and are struggling with sick loved ones or the loss of a friend or family member. Others personally experience and feel the impact of injustice. And others are simultaneously struggling to juggle virtually schooling children from home. Regardless, all employees are coping with an altered working environment and workflow – many of whom are navigating remote work for the first time.

Any and all of these factors have varying levels of impact on employees. It is critical for organizations to keep an eye on the health and well-being of their people. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation Survey, 72% of Americans say their lives have been disrupted, and 45% of adults report that worry and stress related to COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental health. When employee well-being is low, organizational performance is also lowered. In fact, 46% of company executives expect a reduction in performance targets in 2020.

To successfully lead through this crisis, leadership behaviors need to reflect cultural shifts that are taking place in organizations. In a recent article, “A Call to Leaders in Our Social Justice and COVID-19 Era,” Irma Camps, Ph.D., wrote for Psychology Today, “Leadership can mitigate negative macro-environmental events and elevate organizations to reach new outcomes during transitional periods.” 


L&D teams should partner closely with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) teams to create a seamless leadership development reskilling strategy that weaves in critical language, tone and policies that mirror the broader cultural efforts of the organization.

The learning strategy for skilling leaders to lead with humanity, inclusivity and agility  involves a multitiered and multimodal approach, representing an appropriate OSF (on-the-job, social and formal learning) ratio. Each skill builds on the other and is best taught in a sequence. Begin by focusing on developing the skills leaders need to lead with humanity, then the skills they need to lead inclusively and finally to lead with agility. As leaders gain insight and experience, the learning journey allows leaders to put their new skills into practice, using quarterly check-ins to provide feedback and assess progress against goals.

In its recent “KPMG 2020 CEO Outlook: COVID-19 Special Edition” report, KPMG asserts, “Chief executives of the world’s largest organizations are using this unparalleled moment in history to lead with increased purpose and impact, both societal and economic. They are leading with empathy and humanity as they prioritize talent and corporate responsibility, finding opportunity amid a fall in global economic confidence, and rewiring their businesses for tomorrow’s new reality.”


After properly analyzing organizational need and readiness for this new leadership framework, gaining buy-in from key stakeholders, and aligning business strategies to desired goals and outcomes – L&D teams can begin to create the learning journey.

Table 1 identifies some best practices to consider when creating the learning journey. The learning journey should be adaptive and based on each leader’s pre-program assessments, targeted to their one-on-one coaching needs and tailored to provide personalized peer coaching activities. Adaptive design is critical to ensuring each leader walks away with the ability to apply their new skills to benefit their team and department.

Best Practices for Building Critical Leadership Skills

Lead with Humanity

There are two schools of thought regarding whether a leader can learn to lead with humanity or whether a leader must be born with the ability to do so. A telltale sign of the natural capability of a leader to lead with humanity is their emotional quotient (EQ). A leader with a high EQ has a high level of self-awareness and empathy. For leaders with low EQ, the emphasis on phases three through five of the learning journey will need to target ways to increase EQ, by focusing on:

  • Self-awareness.
  • Self-management.
  • Mindfulness.
  • Social awareness.
  • Relationship management.

Leading with humanity does not mean a lack of focus on the business! Rather, it keeps the organization’s people at the heart of the business. Include tips on integrating humanity in the workplace using simple, easy-to-achieve methods: increasing communication and demonstrating empathy, vulnerability and flexibility along with other low-cost, high-impact strategies.

Inclusive Leadership

Inclusive leadership maximizes talent and productivity, increasing employee’s job satisfaction and commitment to the company. Reports also show that, when companies establish an inclusive culture, they report an increase in creativity, innovation and openness. There are six characteristics of inclusive leaders to focus on in this training program:

  • Visible commitment.
  • Humility.
  • Awareness of bias.
  • Curiosity about others.
  • Cultural intelligence.
  • Effective collaboration.

Continuous coaching is critical to establishing inclusive leadership. Peer coaches must feel comfortable giving constructive feedback on behaviors that support or inhibit inclusion. 

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership requires a shift in leaders’ mindsets from traditional, linear thinking to viewing the organization as a living ecosystem that evolves continuously. This transition requires not only a transformation of mindset but also behaviors:

  • Be Innovative: Seek diversity of thought, and embrace creativity.
  • Adapt a Learning Mindset: Encourage risk and allow for experimentation.
  • Foster Collaboration: Create an atmosphere of psychological safety, trust and individual accountability, providing an opportunity for voices to be heard.
  • Think Strategically: Use adaptive road maps, dynamic feedback loops and bounded autonomy.

Along with adopting these behaviors, the basic concepts of the Agile Manifesto and best practices on leading agile transformation within organizations should be included in the program. 


It is time to act boldly! Leaders must lead with humility, inclusivity and agility to reevaluate long-standing leadership competencies. L&D has an opportunity to be a positive force for change in establishing a new way forward and better preparing leaders for future times of uncertainty and crisis.