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How to Be a Leader Who Brings Unity and Calm to Your Team



October 17, 2020 10 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – John C. Maxwell


Life got messy in 2020. 

It’s not just the virus. It’s the way the virus has changed everything we once took for granted—from the way we to the way we get to work. 

Or don’t get to work, as the case may be. 

Although forecasts and timelines vary, one thing is clear: COVID-19 is here to stay.

The rest is largely unknown: particularly regarding decisions made by businesses and individuals.

Researchers predict that COVID-19 will continue to cause mayhem and distress for years to come. Intermittent lockdowns and panic-buying will simply become a part of daily life. And, if a vaccine is finally approved, international deal-making will probably get in the way.  

More people will be affected, and even more people will stay at home. 

Many of us are only just starting to realize that there may never actually be a time when we go back to “how things were before.” And those feeling it the most are the faithful nine-to-fivers.

This time last year—before COVID-19 was even heard of—a large proportion of the working world spent their day at the workplace. We showed up at work, did our job, and went home again. It was also where we engaged in the bulk of our daily social interaction: where we discussed projects with colleagues, attended meetings, shared a lunchroom, and chatted idly around the watercooler. 

Over 40 million people have lost their jobs since COVID-19 hit. The rest of us have been forced to stay home and have conversations with our screens. Research by the Society for Human Resource (SHRM) estimates that around two-thirds of Americans are now working remotely due to COVID-19

And boy, are we feeling it. 

Related: Four Ways Businesses Can Support Employees’ Mental Health Amid COVID-19

From remote by choice to remote by force

It’s true that even before the pandemic struck, remote work was on the rise. The last five years have seen a 44% growth in people working anywhere from their kitchen table to beachfront cafes in Bali. But here’s the difference: it used to be a choice. 

For many, the digital nomad lifestyle is the way forward. Christian and Rasmus Mikkelsen (the Mikkelsen twins) recently launched PublishingLife, a fully remote education company that helps other entrepreneurs build their own online business.

Although they initially considered setting up a corporate office, they realized the benefits of staying remote far outweighed bringing their staff into one location. They are now determined to remain 100% remote as their business grows, as per the general trend. 

“For businesses that were already partially, or completely, operating remotely, the effect of coronavirus was minimized because employees could continue about their business whether they’re at home, traveling abroad, or in quarantine,” says Rasmus. “Companies with big corporate offices were forced to close their buildings and send workers home, which has been surprisingly effective and successful.”

They firmly believe that despite the massive impact that coronavirus has had on the business world, remote work could be a powerful model for the new age.  

“Even after the pandemic is over, I think we will see a lot of businesses keep many of their employees remote,” says Rasmus. “It’s a huge benefit to the business because it saves employees valuable time commuting to and from work. Plus, the physical location is no longer an obstacle when hiring. It is an even bigger benefit to the worker because it creates an endless number of work opportunities, and people love the freedom of remote work. Work on your own schedule from anywhere in the world. How could it get any better?”

Sure, there are numerous benefits to remote work, and many companies have been able to weather the economic downturn purely by sending their workers home. Google Inc. recently announced that most of its 200,000 employees will continue working from home until July 2021. 

But nine months into this mess, the novelty has started to wear off. And it’s taking a huge toll on our mental health

The mental impact of remote work

In the absence of daily preparation and training, even the most competent may struggle to perform and engage as well as they did previously. Those who are new to working from home have reported feeling isolated, disconnected, and anxious. 

Working remotely means you can’t just knock on the boss’s door when you have a question. Lack of face-to-face supervision and the inability to ‘reach out’ may mean the work doesn’t get done. Reduced can quickly lead to a lack of productivity, which only reinforces the despair and worry.

We’re also missing a vital component of standard human interaction: physical body language. A rushed or particularly blunt email from a boss or colleague can quickly be interpreted as a sign that the sender is angry. When working in the same environment, we might otherwise know that they’re just having a bad day. Reading the tone of voice in text is a job in itself. 

Above all else is a new and pervading sense of . Those who live alone or don’t have opportunities to connect with others in their remote-work environment may be particularly vulnerable to stress and depression.

Meanwhile, those with other commitments in their personal lives are now contending with multiple distractions – restless kids, pets, partners, chores—all which make for a suboptimal work environment.  

Related: Why Your Mental Health is the Key to Your Success in Business

Why leaders need to tune in to their workers

COVID-19 has already brought an enormous amount of stress into our lives. What with the daily pandemonium of supermarket queues, health fears, stringent hygiene, media reports, and general anxiety, virtual work commitments can seem a little overwhelming. 

This is where leaders and managers need to put themselves in their workers’ shoes and realize what they may be facing.

In becoming more conscious, managers and business owners can make an enormous difference to the way their employees get work done. Better yet, they can help their employees continue to give their best and positively impact the organization. 

Social media marketer Kim Barrett from Your Social Voice specializes in helping business owners succeed online. He believes that from 2021 onwards, businesses will change in ways that have never been seen before. 

“Leaders in business are going to have to put all stakeholders’ interests first, rather than just their own bottom line,” he says. “The tide has gone out on the business owners that only care about their own profits. As Warren Buffet famously said, “All those that were swimming with no pants have been exposed.”

Now, says Kim, is the time for a new kind of management: one in which leaders are called on to demonstrate the kind of behaviors they expect and need from the people that work for them. “I’d expect to see that exponentially increase in 2021 and onwards as the truly conscious leaders step forward and lead by example.”

The advent of the conscious leader

Much of the way we operate stems from unconsciousness—learned patterns that have been ingrained in us since birth. We often don’t even think about what we do or how we do it.

But if leaders are going to see their companies through the pandemic, they will need to engage more with their workers. This means recognizing common humanity—the fact that every employee is an individual with needs. 

Consciousness, at its most basic, is awareness. For leaders, the capacity to understand a worker’s personal circumstances can help them create a conscious culture where people know what’s expected. To be effective and thrive, employees need to know that they’re understood. 

Digital Nomad Summit founder Olúmidé Gbenro believes that conscious has been a long time coming. And now, it’s more important than ever. But to implement consciousness successfully, businesses in all niches will need to take a holistic approach. 

“When it comes to community building, we focus our attention a lot on mental health,” he explains. “Being an online entrepreneur, people can often be in front of the laptop too much. Traveling as a digital nomad may seem great, except it’s not always easy to find friends and connect with other human beings.”

“Being a conscious leader in this case means emphasizing the importance of socializing and supporting everyone in our community. It’s creating a safe space so we can all coexist and grow together at our own pace.”

This can be as simple as having conversations around mental wellbeing. Workers need to know they have a safe space to speak up about how they’re coping at home, and what to do if they’re not. 

Robert B. McGuinness, business coach and founder of Soul Venturer, says that leaders now need to honor what he calls the ‘soul standard’. “I believe this is going to change the future of and the future of . The days of going into business solely for money won’t work in the new economy. The real currency is impact! Impact that comes from the depths of who you are.”

“In this new economy and society, the need for our deepest and most authentic desires are at our fingertips. If you aren’t doing something that is deeply aligned with who you are at your core, I believe it is going to be deeply challenging to find something sustainable for you in the future.”

Related: 4 Ways Conscious Entrepreneurs Elevate Humanity Through Business

Strategies for becoming more conscious 

  1. Actively listen to your employees. Look for what isn’t being said rather than what is. Observe communication in all forms—spoken and written—and try to understand how the worker felt when they made that communication.

  2. Listen to yourself. Does your inner voice criticize you or encourage you? Whatever you’re hearing from within will influence the way you treat others. Focus on developing the self-awareness that fosters positive thinking.

  3. How’s that tension? COVID-related stress affects us all, and that stress can turn even the most gentle leaders into monsters. Schedule some time for true relaxation and stress reduction. Make sure to encourage your employees to do the same.

  4. Be present. Whether you’re in a virtual meeting or writing an email, be aware of where you are. Try to keep your mind from wandering into other places. Thinking about what you did yesterday or what needs to be done tomorrow will only rob you of what needs to be done now.

  5. Slow down. This situation isn’t changing anytime soon. What good will rushing do?  How will rushing make your workers feel? Anxiety can make you appear fiery and out-of-control, which will only make people panic. Take a breath. Respond when you’re calm.


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The Trump campaign celebrated a growth record that Democrats downplayed.



The White House celebrated economic growth numbers for the third quarter released on Thursday, even as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign sought to throw cold water on the report — the last major data release leading up to the Nov. 3 election — and warned that the economic recovery was losing steam.

The economy grew at a record pace last quarter, but the upswing was a partial bounce-back after an enormous decline and left the economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The White House took no notice of those glum caveats.

“This record economic growth is absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country,” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign said in a statement, highlighting a rebound of 33.1 percent at an annualized rate. Mr. Trump heralded the data on Twitter, posting that he was “so glad” that the number had come out before Election Day.

The annualized rate that the White House emphasized extrapolates growth numbers as if the current pace held up for a year, and risks overstating big swings. Because the economy’s growth has been so volatile amid the pandemic, economists have urged focusing on quarterly numbers.

Those showed a 7.4 percent gain in the third quarter. That rebound, by far the biggest since reliable statistics began after World War II, still leaves the economy short of its pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery has also slowed, and now coronavirus cases are rising again across much of the United States, raising the prospect of further pullback.

“The recovery is stalling out, thanks to Trump’s refusal to have a serious plan to deal with Covid or to pass a new economic relief plan for workers, small businesses and communities,” Mr. Biden’s campaign said in a release ahead of Thursday’s report. The rebound was widely expected, and the campaign characterized it as “a partial return from a catastrophic hit.”

Economists have warned that the recovery could face serious roadblocks ahead. Temporary measures meant to shore up households and businesses — including unemployment insurance supplements and forgivable loans — have run dry. Swaths of the service sector remain shut down as the virus continues to spread, and job losses that were temporary are increasingly turning permanent.

“With coronavirus infections hitting a record high in recent days and any additional fiscal stimulus unlikely to arrive until, at the earliest, the start of next year, further progress will be much slower,” Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note following the report.


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Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.



The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.

Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.

Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.

“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”

The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.

The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.

“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.

Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.

“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.


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Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.



As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.


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