How COVID-19 Has Made Me a More Compassionate Leader

collage of photos of Kelvin Tran

By Kelvin Tran, Chief Financial Officer, TD Bank

Times of crisis like what we're all going through right now with COVID-19 can be scary, downright terrifying even, and rightfully so.

We've lost so many friends, family, brothers and sisters to this pandemic, while others have lost their livelihood and so much more.

But as I write this personal piece on things I learned during the pandemic, I can tell you that crisis can also bring everything into perspective, shift our priorities and make us better human beings.

It's certainly helped me refocus the kind of leader and kind of man I want to be moving forward.

I've come a long way from the child who left his home country with his family and nothing else than what we had on our backs to become the leader I am today.

I feel privileged and honored to continue to work from home the past few months, all while I watch in awe as healthcare workers and those deemed essential are still helping others in the frontlines.

But even someone like myself, as grateful for how lucky I am -- lucky to call TD home and grateful for my beautiful family – needs a reminder of how fortunate I am. And that wakeup call was COVID-19.

The last three months have given me time to rethink the fundamentals of what I've always thought makes a great leader, and that's why I'm writing this now. To share what I've seen within this great organization, but also how I've changed for the better.

Lead by example, by more than just words

This may sound like textbook leadership jargon, but it's so much more, I promise.

Leaders need to keep calm, even as something new and shocking happens every single day.

COVID-19 has been a moving target to say the least. Every day has brought a new, difficult challenge to TD, the banking industry, small businesses across the globe and the employees working for them.

But I've seen our Colleagues go above and beyond, learn to adapt and work from home, even willing to be cross-trained to help a different area of the Bank make sure our Customers are taken care of through this trying time.

Meanwhile, it's been more important than ever for TD's leaders to set the example and focus on what matters. Our actions have needed to be as calm as our words.

Colleagues will not only listen to you during this time but watch you as well. Our demeanor and actions need to match the calming, confident tone of our words.

Be prepared for the unexpected

Things will not always go as planned. But even as the best laid plans deal with unforeseen obstacles, it's my job as a leader to bring everyone back to reality.

In fact, leaders need to be prepared to deal with curve balls and trained to take on the unexpected.

People's lives have been turned upside down during COVID-19 and no one could have expected the lockdowns we've seen since March.

I've been mindful of that, but also willing to adjust and pivot at a moment's notice.

Listening to ideas from our Colleagues and not just dismissing them because of what's been done in the past has made all the difference in the world.

Stay connected to Colleagues, especially amid larger social movements

Ever since COVID-19 escalated, we wanted to stay in constant contact with our Colleagues.

In Finance, we started a weekly newsletter that wasn't just to keep everyone updated on the pandemic, but offer up fun content as well, like cooking videos shared by others.

We also had a series on good news, to help us through the unyielding stress and questions COVID-19 has us asking every day.

Something that's also personal to me is the social unrest we've seen in recent months associated with COVID-19 and the unrest that's not connected to the pandemic.

Bad things grow in the dark, so when you see injustice, shine a light on it and enact change.

Harking back to one of my earlier topics is that your actions need to mirror your words. If you don't act and don't stand on the side of equality during times of unrest, don't you think you'll wish you did when you look back in a few years?

Support your Colleagues like family, because that's exactly what they are

This might be the most important lesson I've learned during this time.

TD has a unique culture, where our Colleagues and Customers are more than co-workers and people who bank with us.

But what I've seen, leading video calls while many work from home, is that our Colleagues need us to support them in their personal lives.

What's gotten them through this unprecedented time is caring about them, being interested in their perspective and having empathy for their situations.

Barking dogs, crying babies and active children -- all at home while we try to work -- have become common place.

Not everyone can be at every meeting, people might be late, and schedules will have to be adjusted. But allowing for flexibility and doing it with compassion and support is what helps to create trust and empower those under our leadership.

They say, "Never waste a crisis" and I think that's true, but in a different way than you might think. I think you shouldn't waste a crisis, because it's an opportunity to reflect on how you lead and transform into a better person.

Kelvin Tran recently spoke about "leading through a crisis," on a podcast with Ascend Canada, a professional organization to support Pan-Asian business leaders. You can listen to the full-length podcast here.


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