Originally posted on Forbes.com
The COVID-19 pandemic is reminding us every day that we are living in an interconnected world. In a short period of time, the virus has spread across oceans and invisible borders, causing most of human civilization to be in some form of quarantine or isolation. We find ourselves adapting to a new normal.
The effects of living in an interconnected world apply in business too. Economies buckled. Supply chains halted. Our meetings now exist on Zoom rather than in a conference room. Few things feel the same as they did when we rang in 2020.
There’s no denying how difficult these times are. However, I truly believe that there is always a silver lining to every hardship, and so do these two incredible leaders—Thupten Jinpa and Ashish Kulshrestha.
Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D (who goes by Jinpa) is the co-founder of the Compassion Institute, author of A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives, and longtime translator for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Ashish Kulshrestha is a business veteran who has worked with several Fortune 100 companies, most notably KPMG International, as a director and strategic advisor.
Together, they are using this unique time to open a dialogue about why we must all lead with empathy and compassion for each other today more than ever.
But why do Jinpa and Ashish believe that now is the right time to open up these conversations about positive leadership? In short, everything else has changed. Why not change the way we lead while we’re at it?
What Is an Interconnected World?
Jinpa and Ashish talk a lot about how interconnected our modern world has become. But what exactly does this mean?
In its simplest terms, interconnectedness refers to how one person’s action can impact the life of another. It can be how your attitude at work affects your other teammates, or how a speech recorded in Africa and viewed online can inspire someone in the United States to change their life.
Just think about how a smartphone can be designed in the U.S., manufactured in India, and ultimately purchased in France. In business, it’s almost like there are no borders. A hundred years ago, it’d be impossible for most people to influence the life of another outside of their own community. Now, a European manager can collaborate with a Japanese counterpart on Slack in seconds.
“We have chosen to create a truly interconnected world partly driven by advances in technology as well as commerce,” Ashish says. “I don’t think we can ever go back to the old days. If we are going to face the reality of our current world, then the interconnectedness is there whether we like it or not.”
There are certainly many benefits to this global model. However, the legitimate successes can overshadow the downsides—one of them being a lack of empathy for the people who support their business. “We don’t need to worry about how people are being treated in one part of the world so long as the products and travel seamlessly,” Jinpa says.
Ashish adds that “[leaders] have limited consequences.” To increase profits, a North American CEO can demand increased production of their device. That’s great for her and her stakeholders—but what about the already overworked manufacturing team overseas?
“Leaders can conveniently forget that part and move on to enjoy the benefits of their decisions,” Ashish continues. “I hope we can give people enough courage and enough wisdom to have a more constant presence of this realization. With that realization, I hope they can create meaningful action.”
Now Is the Time for Kinder Leaders
So, what exactly does COVID-19 have to do with being globally interconnected? And why is this the time to push for more compassionate leadership?
The coronavirus pandemic is an extreme, inescapable example of how a single event on one side of the world can impact everything. “Even if we are fortunate enough to be not directly exposed to the virus,” Jinpa says, “we have all experienced the consequences—the long-term economic consequences. The social relationship consequences, and so on…The global pandemic has shown us the concrete reality of what [interconnectedness] means.”
As this reality sits at the forefront of our minds, now could be a rare moment to seize the opportunity. Additionally, many great societal changes like labor laws and human rights victories happened during times of strife. “Historically, suffering lies at the heart of a great awakening,” says Jinpa.
“My hope is that [the pandemic] will wake us up,” he continues. “We need to take a step back and change our consciousness and attitude so we can adapt.”
Becoming a More Empathetic Leader
Even if you fully agree with Jinpa and Ashish’s wisdom, making more intentional and compassionate business decisions is easier said than done. So, how can we start making empathetic choices for those we see every day as well as for those we may never actually meet face-to-face.
First off, it starts with adjusting your mindset. “Begin every conversation or thought process with the fact that the person that you’re concerned about, or the person in front of you—whether a stranger or not—is no different than who you are. That gives the foundation,” says Ashish.
When looking back at his own career, Ashish says definitively that business decisions he made with this foundation were monumentally better than those made without empathy or compassion in mind. It’s also okay to start slow. “Work diligently with expanding your moments from two seconds of realization to making it almost a constant on a daily basis,” he adds.
And why not take genuine care a step further? Start regularly reaching out to those supporting your organization in every capacity no matter how far away they live. Show them genuine gratitude for their work and wish them well on a personal level. “Opening up and feeling connected with others makes perfect sense because we’re deeply, deeply social creatures,” says Jinpa. “We crave for recognition. We crave for affection. We crave for connection.”
These small gestures will create real connections that will grow into loyalty and mutual appreciation.
“Use this time as reset to reposition our lenses and refocus on the underlying human condition,” says Ashish. “If we can make life on this small rock (a reference to the National Geographic documentary, One Strange Rock, narrated by Will Smith) better for everybody, economic prosperity will follow,” says Ashish. “When people are happy, countries are happy, and economies are happy.”
The conversation continues with positive, compassionate global leaders on the Leading with Genuine Care podcast. Don’t miss an episode by joining my weekly mailing list. You’ll also get a guide to the Simple Six—my advice on living and working with more purpose and clarity—for free. Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn, and keep up with my company imageOne.