Succeeding After Sheltering-in-Place

Best-selling author Daniel Goleman predicts which two critical elements organizations will need to thrive after the pandemic fades.

Daniel Goleman, author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence, and co-developer of the Goleman EI online learning platform, is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, is available now. 

As COVID-19 continues to spread, employees around the globe are being challenged to set up home offices, embrace new technologies, and carefully manage their time, pulled between impending deadlines and the needs of their families.

While most of the employed might feel lucky to have a job right now, psychologists predict a sharp increase in anxiety and depression in employees over the coming months. There are a number of reasons for this: the loneliness of isolation, the multiple demands of work and home, and the panic over an uncertain future. Leaders who want to help their employees stay focused, motivated, and healthy are tasked with answering a whole new set of questions.

One of the biggies: What do well-being and engagement look like under quarantine?

For starters, consider the work of Dr. Carol Ryff, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was among the first to study well-being beyond the simplistic definition of just being happy. In her multidimensional model of well-being, she cites purpose as one of the six keys to a well-lived life. In the words of Dr. Ryff, “purpose in life” provides an inner compass, determining how we direct our vision with intention and how we pursue meaningful goals that let us look forward to a positive future.

In the middle of this global crisis—one that many predict will be more severe than the Great Recession—“looking forward” to the future takes on a whole new meaning. Strategic plans have been turned on their heads, goals have shifted, and the camaraderie so essential to employee engagement all but disappeared for millions of employees the moment they last left the office.

No matter your age, chances are this disruption is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. All of a sudden, it takes incredible effort, crystal-clear communication, and a strong internet connection to know where you fit in the grand scheme. Hope and resilience have become more critical than ever, and how quickly we recover from any and all setbacks will in large part determine our personal and collective success.

Beyond having a financial cushion, I’d predict research will one day show that organizations that came into this pandemic already operating with a clear sense of purpose will turn out to be better poised to thrive over the long run. When Korn Ferry interviewed 30 founders, CEOs, and senior executives at consumer companies with “visible and authentic purposes, engaged employees, customer-oriented cultures, and strong financial results,” all of them agreed that “operating from purpose makes them more resilient.” Ernst and Young found that almost two-thirds of executives saw that having a sense of purpose beyond the daily commercial mission made them more able to innovate, and so either disrupt or respond to disruption. 

Though we may not have control over the virus, we do have control over how we respond. At a time when many feel helpless, disconnected, distracted, and stir-crazy, a sense of meaning—and all of the rewards that go along with it—are critical. As Kevin Cashman, Korn Ferry’s global leader of CEO and executive development, has said, “Establishing a line of sight into organizational purpose is a leader’s job, not just once as part of a ‘visioning’ exercise but rather continually, incorporating purpose into every moment and process of leadership.” As leaders reimagine how their teams work and convene, they will want to think hard about how organizational purpose will keep people moving in a single, cohesive direction.

For leaders, this an opportunity to double down on purpose. Employees’ dedication and well-being just might depend upon it.