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COVID-19 and The Circle of Safety

By Anthony Schumacher, Ph.D. — In his book “Leaders Eat Last,” author Simon Sinek emphasizes that an organization’s strength comes from how well its people pull together rather than the product or service it provides. The “pulling together” creates a circle of safety where people feel that they belong and are valued. Effective leaders extend the circle to everyone within the organization. One could argue that the word “effective” could be replaced with “ethical.”  An ethical leader acts with integrity, conducts affairs honestly and with transparency, and believes in the power of empathy. Sinek, when noting the importance of empathy, states that “exceptional organizations have cultures in which the leaders provide cover from above and the people on the ground look out for each other.”

Much has been written and discussed related to COVID-19. People continue to face physical, mental, and financial pain. Statistics provide staggering numbers of individuals who have died from the virus. These individuals are more than numbers; they are parents, children, siblings, spouses, significant others, and friends. The last year has provided pain, but it has also demonstrated the opportunity for hope moving forward.

The appreciation for teachers, health care workers, first responders, and front-line workers in every industry has increased. The circle of safety within organizations has expanded. Many who may have been overlooked now rightfully have a seat at the table. Titles and positions are not as important; character and courage matter. Employees have taken care of one another when sickness arrives. Ethical leaders have demonstrated their appreciation for those who continue to keep organizations afloat.

Soon, spring will arrive and hopefully increased optimism toward moving forward in a new world that has dealt with the worst that COVID-19 had to offer and survived. The circle of safety must continue to expand. Individuals must be viewed as people worthy of dignity and respect. The lessons that 2020-2021 provided cannot be forgotten. Empathy, kindness, humility, and true concern for one another’s well-being need to be the norm in this new world.

Sinek, S. (2014). Leaders eat last: Why some teams pull together and others don’t. New York: Penguin Group

Anthony Schumacher, Ph.D., is an assistant professor and chair of ethical leadership at Thomas More University. He uses Sinek’s “Leaders Eat Last” in his Leading High Performing Teams course in the Master of Arts in Ethical Leadership program.