Step in, Step Up, or Step Off!
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Step in, Step Up, or Step Off!

Douglas Duncan, Chief Information Officer, Columbia Insurance Group
Douglas Duncan, Chief Information Officer, Columbia Insurance Group

Douglas Duncan, Chief Information Officer, Columbia Insurance Group

People are struggling.

Even those who have a stable job with good health insurance, live in a safe neighborhood, and have a family support mechanism still have challenges to their Three E’s - Economic, Emotional, and Environmental well-being.

Every day can seem like a roller-coaster ride. Maybe you are forced to work from home amidst bored kids, barking dogs, inadequate Internet service, and endless video calls. Maybe you are forced to come into the office even though you do not feel it is safe. This takes a toll on your emotional balance, impacting your work, health, and social interactions. Maybe the economic turmoil, the political uncertainty, the safety of your neighborhood, the difficulty of schooling, or the constant stream of bad news about global issues weigh you down.

These challenges create stress and make life more difficult. In a work environment, whose job is it to fix the problem? While everyone must take primary responsibility for their own well-being, it is the business leadership that must take action to foster an effective work environment. Our leaders must either step in, step up, or step off.


“Stepping in” is about caring. It is easy for a leader to say work is work, and home life is your own problem. True leaders understand work decisions will affect home life and visa versa. How can leaders step into the issues they are facing yet retain a professional working relationship?

 Listen to what your people are saying. If someone frequently comments or jokes about an issue, it is probably a real issue.

 Listen to what people are not saying. The non-verbal aspects of communication, which are more challenging to understand when not in person, can hold the most significant part of the communication. Without that understanding, how can you lead effectively?

All leaders must be people-persons in some way. If you struggle with relating to people, then work twice as hard to do so because a lack of connecting with people or lack of empathy for the challenges they are facing at work and home is a recipe for failure.


“Stepping up” is about ownership. It requires a leader to focus on more than data points. Focusing on current production output, stock prices, recent profits, or new expenses is critical for running a sustainable business, but just as important is the ability to understand there is a bigger picture. That picture includes intangibles and behaviors required to handle exceptional circumstances. A leader must own and accept ambiguous responsibility and take ownership of the solution.

Take off the blinders.

• All leaders within an organization must consider themselves a part of the collective leadership, not just a leader of their own silo. You must care about the whole, not just the parts. If you become aware of a problem or opportunity to improve the work environment, do not limit yourself to your immediate area because all parts of an organization have both obvious and hidden connections.

Happy staff, happy path.

 Organizations are made up of people, and a successful company in the long run requires its people to be effective at work. People tend to struggle unless their needs are met for all aspects of their life. Having happy employees is not just about good pay and exciting work; it includes a balance of supporting everything else in their lives. Good leaders remember this and try to work with the employee as a whole person, not a replaceable machine part.


You have heard that if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Some leaders believe it is enough to establish a vision and wave as the people march off to their destiny. Most leaders are self-aware enough to understand the journey must be a shared one. They know empathy must be demonstrated and not discarded as f luff.

Outstanding leaders can stand above the crowd while at the same time, being part of it.


While everyone must take primary responsibility for their
own well-being, it is the business leadership that must foster a productive
work environment



How can you know what kind of leader you are? What clues will indicate you are failing at stepping in and stepping up, and that perhaps it is time to “Step off”?

 Following the company line invariably causes you angst.

 When articulating your organization’s strategy and vision, you do not feel good about yourself.

 You give guidance to staff that you would not give to a friend.

 The results justify whatever means are necessary.

 People look like swappable components in your organization’s machine.

 Work is about work, and you demand people to keep their private lives sequestered.

 The same questions/complaints keep resurfacing.

Even if the above clues hit too close to home, there is still hope! Before you step off, think about how you can provide your people what they need to cope with these difficult times. Discuss your concerns with another leader whom you respect.

Read a motivational book or listen to an inspirational speech. Take a few minutes and think about all that is good in what you do. Be positive. Be empathetic. Be a leader.

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