BTiffany O'Donnell | CEO, Women Lead Change

Like so many of you, our household is obsessed with the ESPN documentary, "The Last Dance." We knew those guys were good … but, wow. So good.

It seems only fitting that a discussion on leadership in this COVID-19 season should weave in a sports analogy. And if it can include Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls? Even better.

So here goes:

If we could select an MVP word for COVID-19, it would be resilience. It’s hard to find a business article, CEO report or LinkedIn blog without it. And it’s a great word. It’s meaning has an effect far and wide. We know it’s a characteristic that defines our greatest leaders. However, you can’t have an MVP without a wing(wo)man: empathy. (Think: Jordan & Pippen.)

A transformative leader understands that she can’t preach resilience without empathy. The two words together have never been more complimentary than in this COVID-19 season. Resilience calls upon the ability to pick oneself up after falling flat in adversity. It requires the individual to focus on the goal and work toward it no matter what obstacles are thrown her way. She, in fact, gets so good at facing them down that she begins to anticipate their arrival.

Now, THAT’S resilience.

But when leaders preach resilience on its own, it can be heard as "buck up." Resilience without empathy can build a wall between a leader and the team. It can tear the fabric of the cohesive, collaborative team created over the years of retreats, conferences and team building exercises.

The team begins to fear disappointing the leader, because they don’t have the ability to see things as "black and white" as the leader does. Mind you, they wish they did, but they just don’t.

To my female leaders: You are poised for this challenge. Research by Women Lead Change and others shows that empathy is your strong suit and successful companies run by women, value and leverage this trait. Neuroscience backs this up. The female brain is hard-wired for empathy.

I recall a fearless leader who guided me through a series of professional challenges. As a leader, she knew her success relied on my success. But, more than that, she knew what motivated me. I heard her say the words, "We are in this together." And, then, six little words that launched an awakening: "I will not let you fail." She saw me, she heard me and she, ultimately, provided the empathy that I needed to flex my resilience. Had she simply told me to "power through," I imagine the results would have been slower, maybe not as effective.

I would describe myself as resilient from that moment on. But, I’d be lying if I said it was resilience on it’s own that got me there. It was the gift of empathy that gave me the ability to be resilient.

To my leaders: When you preach resilience, please do so with empathy. The MVP always needs its powerful wing(wo)man.

Tiffany O’Donnellis the CEO of Women Lead Change. She has studied under gender intelligence expert Barbara Annis and now speaks on this topic as well as male allyship across industry sectors. Contact her via email.