Skillsoft Blog

In an Upside-Down World, Lead Right Side Up

February 3, 2021 | by Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek

Last month, as I greeted 2021, I breathed a sigh of relief. My family was healthy and whole. My team at Skillsoft had faced our steepest "learning curve" yet, and I was proud of what we’d achieved. Covid-19 vaccinations had begun to reach those most vulnerable, and I felt truly hopeful for the future. Despite everything 2020 served up, I'm still an optimist at heart.

I'm also a passionate believer in resilience, agility, and adaptability. But those power skills, which I value in myself and my colleagues, and actively nurture in my teenage daughters, are only half the picture. In times of crisis, challenge, and volatility, resilience must be partnered with compassion and empathy.

As leaders, we need to address the concerns of our people as well as their work-related tasks, give them a chance to express how they’re feeling, not just what they’re doing. This often means that the line between the personal and professional — stretched already during the months of remote work and endless WebEx meetings — feels gossamer-thin. But in truth, the best leaders are those who engage with their teams on both levels. We need to connect to the whole person, not just their job title.


From the attack on the Capitol, to a complicated federal government transition, to the list of COVID victims that continues to grow even as we slowly roll out the vaccine — if the events of 2021’s first month are any indication, volatility may be the word of the year. How can organizations foster workplace cultures that are safe, ethical, and better prepared to do the right thing in times of volatility?

Recently, on our Podcast "The Edge," I spoke with Norm Ford, Skillsoft's VP of Compliance Products, about safeguarding against the undercurrent of volatility.

"Culture is everything," says Norm. "It permeates the business. At Skillsoft, we talk about a compliance maturity model that defines company culture; about growing from awareness to full integration. It's not just about checking boxes — it's about relevance, meaning, and emotion. When it comes to the learning journey, help employees internalize the why. In order to make the culture change, you have to impact employees emotionally."

Our own data backs this up. In our 2020 annual learning report, "Lean into Learning," we found that learners dramatically shifted focus after Covid surged. Popular courses centered on subjects such as virtual communication, managing stress, and embracing diversity. I think it's a shift that signals a hopeful future for holistic learning — one that meets learners where they are and empowers them to grow both personally and professionally, even in times of upheaval.

Leading Right Side Up

What do I mean by this? Essentially, what it means is that even when the world is in crisis mode, we cannot lead from there. Now more than ever, it’s about emotional intelligence, effective listening, empathy. With a healthy company culture in place, we can Acknowledge the crisis; Ask employees what their needs are; and Answer them with encouragement and support. The Triple A triage method, if you will.


A woman posted on Facebook that at the beginning of a conference call her boss asked, “How are you?” and she said, “Fine.” Her boss said, “No you’re not. How are you doing?” And they had a two-minute share about how current events were affecting them. Then, because it was necessary, they got to work. It took her boss two minutes, but I can guarantee they were priceless ones.

Now, that's leading "right side up."