Leading Your Team With Compassion and Transparency

A session at CEMA Summit 2023 offered leaders ideas for navigating their teams through periods of upheaval — mergers and acquisitions included.

Author: Curt Wagner       

woman with mic in one hand and outstretched hand speaking

“In our experience, the best changes were ones that were managed in a space of positivity.” — Katie Moon, senior manager of global event marketing at AMD speaking during a CEMA Summit 2023 session. (Two Dudes Photo)

More than 500 corporate event marketers and their industry partners came together for CEMA Summit 2023, powered by PCMA, Aug. 6-8 in Salt Lake City, Utah, for a program designed to help them sharpen their strategy, analytics, and soft skills.

For the upcoming September/October issue, Convene editors summarized main takeaways from a handful of sessions to give you a sample of the knowledge exchanged during those three days. We continue the series online with insights shared on leading teams as they face a litany of new challenges.

CEMA session: ‘Leadership in Times of Continuous Change’

Leading with compassion was the through line of “Leadership in Times of Continuous Change,” in which Katie Moon, senior manager of global event marketing at AMD and Karen Cooper, commercial events director at HP Company, talked about their experiences of leading and being led through acquisitions, mergers, layoffs, and restructuring. Here are some takeaways for leaders from the session:

woman holding mic and speaking

“I think it just comes down to … how you can help your teams.” — Karen Cooper, commercial events director at HP Company. (Two Dudes Photo)

Be compassionate. “In our experience, the best changes were ones that were managed in a space of positivity. The managers who led us through good change were compassionate. They came to the problem as humans,” Moon said, adding that because “change makes people nervous” leaders should “maintain compassion, maintain that positivity. Try to think about how you’re going to convert all of those concerns or challenges into something positive.”

Be positive — but keep things real. Moon cautioned against showing “toxic positivity” — dismissing genuine concerns with forced optimism. “Be real. You have to be human,” she said. “And if you don’t have the positive [take], I think you can be honest about that, too. Say ‘Hey gang, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Let’s keep our chins up and see what’s going to go down.’”

Be transparent but show judgment. “[Share] what is in the best interest of your team — and there are some things that you really can’t share because you might get fired,” Cooper said. “I think it just comes down to what the information is and using your best judgment and how you can help your teams.”

Offer skills development. When mergers mean some team members may no longer be a fit, managers can help by “identifying their skills and then investing in their growth,” Moon said. If there are no viable opportunities for them at the organization, use your network to help them find roles at other organizations.

Keep teams engaged and busy during times of change. “If they can focus their energies into something that they were already good at, that feels normal to what they had before the change — I feel that that helps carry us through the change,” Moon said. “I have a fairly large team with 18 planners and I remind them, ‘I can’t tell you everything’ or ‘I don’t know everything. But please don’t create stories in your mind because it creates so many more problems when we have to undo all the stories you’ve already set in your brain.’”

Curt Wagner is digital editor of Convene.

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