Marshalls World of Sport's Sameera Ahmed says empathetic leadership is crucial


Sameera says the importance of emotional intelligence has never been more pronounced than it is now.

Marshalls World of Sport strategy and transformation executive Sameera Ahmed says the coronavirus lockdown has called for leadership with heart and empathy, saying that the importance of emotional intelligence has never been more pronounced than it is now.

That is why, whenever she has her check-in meeting with her team every morning, the first thing they discuss is how everybody is feeling, how each member is coping emotionally, and generally reflecting on “where we all are as human beings before we even start to discuss work.”

Sameera says doing that alone is something that has not only brought her closer to her team members but has also allowed them to feel more vulnerable and safe to discuss whatever challenges they may be facing.

“We have to understand that it’s not just business as usual and that there is no longer such a thing as office hours so you can't expect responses as quickly as you would if everyone was in the office. You have to understand that some people work better in the early mornings or in the evenings when their children are asleep,” says Sameera, adding that leaders have to take all this into consideration when setting deliverables and timelines for executing them. 

[chro-cta slug=chro-south-africa-s-weekly-community-conversations]

“It's impossible it's important for employees to feel that they have a safe space in which they can raise issues about the challenges they're facing and whatever else may be hindering them from executing the tasks they've been given. So there is a huge need for flexibility and agility in terms of the structure and the process for delivering the work that is required.” 

The company also ensures that they communicate constantly by sending out communications from the business to all staff members to let them know that the business is thinking about them and to inform them about any changes that might be taking place. The executive committee is also responsible for directly calling employees whereby every exco member has a list of people that they must check in with to ensure that they are doing okay. 

“Empathy is also required when it comes to the manner in which speak to and treat ourselves,” says Sameera, who has learned to let go of the things she cannot control. Every day, she writes down the things that frustrate but are outside her locus of control.

“I write it down so that I can let it out. What that does for me psychologically is that it releases me from constantly pondering about it because I have made a concerted effort to remind myself that it is not in my control and that I need to let it go. This also enables me to be more empathetic when my team members face similar uncontrollable circumstances that prevent them from delivering what they were supposed to deliver.”

To maintain a positive outlook, Sameera also writes a list of three things she was able to accomplish at the end of every day. These are three things that she was most proud to be able to execute on that day. She thereafter writes three more things that would elicit the same feeling if completed on the following day.

She has also joined a zoom fitness group in which, for about 30 to 45 minutes every morning, they do various exercises “which are extremely challenging”, but give her a great opportunity to get her energy levels up.

Having a routine is very important too because I have a three-year-old and that also gets them into a pattern of knowing when things are going to happen and how they are going to happen. 

Ultimately, this period of uncertainty is about self-care, so that you are able to ensure that, as a leader, you have the capacity to care for others and be the rock that they need you to be in order to help them get through this. 

Related articles

Part 1: Building tomorrow's HR leaders: strategies for success

In part one of this article, Debbie Mtshelwane, a lecturer and leader of the HR programme at North-West University Potchefstroom campus, shares strategies for cultivating HR leaders for the future. She stresses the importance of seeing this effort as a crucial part of a complete approach.