Virtual NJHumility and empowerment are two of the characteristics of top tier leaders. A humble leader creates team chemistry every day, actively recognizes the achievements of others and works overtime to protect that chemistry during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leaders also empower their teams to act on behalf of customers and fellow employees and to take calculated risks that can improve outcomes.

For much of the world, it has been over a month since the world changed. Having settled into the “new normal,” extraordinary global technology leaders are enabling their teams to flourish now more than ever.

Savvy CIOs and technology executives don’t just respond to the business world, reacting to the ebb and flow; they help shape the business, defining the benchmarks for success and innovation.

High-level technology leaders banded together to share their courageous leadership strategies in these times of uncertainty on the HMG Live! New Jersey CIO Virtual Summit. This third installment of HMG Strategy’s Virtual Summit program, which was broadcast live on April 9, connected the HMG community to a wealth of thought leadership and inspiration for courage and authenticity during the current global crisis.

The HMG Live! audience heard from Lookman Fazal, Chief Information and Digital Officer, NJ TRANSIT; Scott Strickland, EVP & CIO, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts; Jim Swanson, EVP and Group CIO at Johnson & Johnson and Gabrielle Wolfson, CDO and CIO at Quest Diagnostics.

No Such Thing as Over-Communication

With “business as usual” on hold—and perhaps in the process of being re-written—communication and trust are crucial to staying afloat. It is time to adapt and enable innovation by keeping dialogues open with team members, business partners and all stakeholders.

“Be fearless, keep the human touch and don’t be afraid of change,” Fazal said. "No task is too small, and no crisis can’t be handled." 

Being able to collaborate in an agile way throughout this crisis has been an accelerator for Quest Diagnostics, according to Wolfson. The face-to-face interaction that video conferencing software offers make a huge difference in keeping her company connected.

"It’s been a different dynamic and a different level of communication,” Wolfson said. “It’s hard to imagine that this would disappear when this is all over." 

The COVID-19 pandemic has also changed the way Strickland interacts with the Wyndham team.

“We no longer have the luxury of dropping by each other’s offices,” Strickland said. “You have to maintain the one-on-one contact and the small gestures that are part of our normal work.”

Leading with Humility

These unprecedented times have revealed who the true leaders are across organizations. According to Swanson, that distinction is not determined by org charts. In the current climate, Swanson has been recognizing who those leaders are in his organization and promoting their accomplishments for others to emulate.

For example, Strickland urges members of his team to demonstrate both broad and small gestures to identify the needs of individuals and to respond to them with empathy.

"If you activate and empower your teams, they will move mountains for you,” Swanson said. “Leading with humility allows you to engage your organization in a way that brings together diverse expertise that collectively drives a better outcome than any one individual could provide, myself included.”

Support Drives Change

Operating through a crisis is nothing new to NJ TRANSIT, as Fazal points out. His organization has learned lifelong lessons working through emergencies such as the September 11 attacks, Hurricane Sandy, and others.

"We have evolved and are prepared to handle the current crisis,” Fazal said. 

It is critical, he said, to have the right support in place at the right levels. This not only includes executive support, but vendors and business partners that go above and beyond.

Wolfson agreed with the significance of technology and business partners that have stepped up for her organization in this crisis. It has enabled her team to shift their focus forward.

“For us, the focus is on changing the status quo and thinking out of the box,” she said.

For example, Quest Diagnostics has dramatically reduced its time-to-market, bringing vital medications out faster during the global pandemic.

"Being one of the largest testing company in the world, innovation is in our DNA," Wolfson said. 

Similar initiatives are sprouting worldwide to ensure the safety, well-being and efficiency of change for essential businesses and those affected by the virus.

“We’re opening up our hotels to first responders and to the homeless in the face of this crisis,” said Strickland.

As for the transit industry, Fazal said his team works tirelessly on improving the efficiency model of public transportation with the use of technology by providing a mobile friendly app, real time arrival information, alert notifications to improve customer experience. This equates to time saving.

“If we can shave 15 minutes off transit times, that equates to millions of minutes that we’re saving for our riders and customers.”

Taking Care of the Team

The panel agreed that these unprecedented times come with their own set of cautions and guidelines for fostering humility. Adjustments to daily office life are necessary to keep workflow efficient.

"People are always connected, at work and at home,” Swanson said. “You need to make sure you re-energize through the day.”

This is not a “work-from-home” environment the world is operating in, according to Strickland— this is a “lockdown” environment. It’s an atmosphere in which productivity away from the office is a concern, but so too is the health, safety and well-being of employee’s families, their communities and the world.

Swanson advises that leaders stay true to their core convictions.

“We’re driven by our credo: We take care of our patients first,” Swanson said. “This prompted our response to addressing the crisis as it first began in China and it became the template for our approach across the globe.”

Strickland likewise said Wyndham was able to analyze and predict, pointing to how Wyndham’s 1,200 hotels in China served as “the canary in the coal mine” for the company’s response to this crisis in other regions.

Most importantly, each of these premier thought leaders conveyed that their employees, colleagues and peers have been the driving force to reacting and responding through the turmoil of a global slowdown.

“One of the initiatives we have in place is that no employee gets left behind,” Fazal said. “It’s the people who drive change.”

Listen to more of the incisive strategies and cutting-edge leadership tactics these rock stars shared by watching the archived recording of the HMG Live! New Jersey CIO Virtual Summit on HMG Strategy’s YouTube channel.

To learn more about HMG Live! and stay informed about HMG Strategy’s upcoming Virtual Experiences, click here — and be sure to register for the May 1 Houston CIO Virtual Summit.