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Written by Rachael Whitten
on July 19, 2020

The Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility held its webinar, Executive Leadership Strategies in Times of Uncertainty, on July 8, 2020, as part of its virtual events series. The panel began with a statement from Head of Wealth Management Diversity and Inclusion at Morgan Stanley, Kara Underwood. 

“It has been a heavy few months, for sure, but with that heaviness comes an opportunity. At Morgan Stanley we’ve responded to the current environment with resources that support our clients, our employees, and our communities, especially communities of color, who have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19,” said Underwood. “Corporate responsibility is more essential today than ever before.”

Moderating the discussion was NBC News Latino Managing Editor Sandra Lilley, who by asking panelists about managing their workforces during so much upheaval regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, confronting racial inequality, and business disruptions. 

“[Business disruptions] have been happening for some time, but never before have we seen the pace of change driven by this Covid-19 pandemic...which has made a competitive landscape much more difficult,” said UPS Senior Vice President Willie Rivero. “It’s very uncomfortable, but my job as a leader is to move our people from the uncontrollable to the controllable. We can’t control government regulations [or] state and local laws, but there’s a lot we can do inside our business.”

Accenture Managing Director Elliott Segarra and Morgan Stanley Managing Director Ileana Musa also shared their leadership philosophies when facing uncharted territory. Segarra boiled his outlook down to three principles: transparency, flexibility, and empathy. “One of the things I’ve noticed, at least during the pandemic, is [that] everyone’s at a different place, and...as leaders, we have to meet people where they are. Listen first and be there for people.” 

According to Musa, “[As leaders] there’s one thing, which is to manage a crisis, and there’s a very different aspect to the work, which is leading at a time of crisis. The ability to flex is incredibly important, but in order to serve clients...we have to anchor on our employees. Having a philosophy of empathy and compassion...is [also] incredibly important. Taking care of your people is what enables you to take care of your clients.” 

Specific skills, such as having a clear vision for the company,  were emphasized as assets for leading during widespread uncertainty, as well as the ability to rely on mentors and outside resources for guidance. “I’m a firm believer that if you want to get better at what you’re doing, you need a coach,” said Rivero. 

The importance of getting employee buy-in regarding business pivots also surfaced. “Inviting individuals to the conversation is important. I’m getting folks’ points of view,” added Musa. “I always say you don’t need to ultimately all agree, but you need to all align in delivering against any one goal or priority.” 

Segarra agreed. “We’re at a moment where we need to build trust with our people. Being vulnerable and collaborating with our people...will be key.” 

To hear the full conversation, visit our virtual events archive.

 

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