Article | 6 min read

Startup Central — Tips for leading with compassion with and

How managers can lead with compassion during difficult times.

By Sammi Chen, Startup Marketing Associate

Last updated July 14, 2022

The past few months have undeniably transformed the way we socialize, work, and lead. In our latest Startup Central Virtual Meetup with CX Industry Leaders, we discuss the ways that management at startups can lead their teams during turbulent times with compassion. From practicing self-care to motivating teams, we asked Customer Experience Team Managers Cynthia Gordon and MaShari Walker, and CEO Darja Gutnick to share their learnings from the last few months.

Prioritizing self-care practices as leaders

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, remote work has become the new norm and the topic of self-care has become more prevalent than ever before. This is a challenge, says the CEO of, an app that gives two-minute doses of leadership advice. “We all want to do it — be there for our team members, be there for our customers, be there for our families.” But this is easier said than done amid the stress and pressures of the current environment.

“When the business needs you it’s easy to just say ‘I need to focus on the issues and tasks,’” says Gutnick. “But this doesn’t contribute to the team feeling safe, or ultimately to the team feeling productive, and moving forward as quickly as you need them to.”

To resolve this conflict of interest, Gutnick recommends a policy of “putting on your own oxygen mask on first.” Says Gutnick, “If you are not feeling okay, then you won’t be able to exert the positivity and mental/emotional energy that your people need you to.”

Practical tips for self-care

“I think boundaries are important,” said Walker, who likes to keep a dedicated working space that’s just for work so that her entire apartment doesn’t feel like the office. “In terms of routines, I’ve incorporated meditation and I try to do a walk every day.” In addition, she’s expanded both her podcast library and her plant collection during the lockdown.

At, the team has examined the Proven methodologies and tactics from world-class leaders for inspiration, from the morning routines of Ariana Huffington to the micro-meditation habits of Melinda Gates.

Gutnick feels it’s important to prioritize going device free for a few hours at the beginning or the end of the day. “A good hack for that is books,” says Gutnick. “I try to keep 2 books on paper with me at all times, one that feels like it’s for the business, and another that’s more recreational.”

Creating a safe space for colleagues during a crisis

Walker observes that some of the most easily solved stressors during this time are practical ones. “Early on we noticed that people didn’t have everything they needed to be productive at home, like desks, chairs, proper lighting, etc.” So the team at made sure to send employees the equipment they need to work comfortably.

Management at made an organizational psychologist available for the team. “I think it’s pretty special,” says Walker. “This is a traumatic time that none of us has ever gone through before, so we really want to make sure we could support them as best as we could.”

This holistic way of approaching psychological safety didn’t stop with their staff. For those employees whose families were affected by job loss, the HR team conducted crowdsourcing and found different companies looking to hire talent that might fit their specific skill sets.

“We’ve also run an engagement survey to check the pulse of the team and see what they’re struggling with,” said Walker.
“And then we’re iterating on that process as well — so there’s a lot of collaboration with higher leadership in addition to our HR team.”

Darja seconded the multi-layered challenges faced by their employees. “We’re trying to avoid the typical overworking habits of small startups, made even more difficult by the lack of natural breaks…it’s a grind currently to actually get people to feel safe.”

Methodologies that motivate your team

Walker has found that variety can be a big help when it comes to motivating the team at “We’re a 24-hour operation, so no matter the hour we’re looking to help our customers and we’re targeting a ten minute response time for the lion share of our tickets,” says Walker. “So with that in mind we have taken a unique approach to the role design, mixing up their day so it’s just not frontline support, but they’re also doing other things such as onboarding customers, or iterating self-service.”

Another way that motivates their team is via care packages. “We’ve distributed several care packages — with cards, jump rope, wine — hopefully so that they take that moment to reset,” says Walker. “Other than that we still host our happy hours, team lunches, and we have aligned as a team behind different COVID-19 relief efforts.”

Unsurprisingly for the creator of, Darja emphasized the importance of sharing what you know. “The more people that know about the things that we can do individually to get through this time, and the more you can share these hacks with your teams, the better we’ll all get through this.”

Darja believes that the most important thing for managers to communicate with their team is a clear vision of where you’re moving towards. “The harder we try to stay on top of things to stay informed and to see what our lives will look like in the future, is really helpful,” says Darja. “Everyone needs that”

Walker echoed this forward-looking sentiment, explaining that at they’re still developing their people’s skill sets. “When it comes to struggles with productivity, we’ve taken prioritization courses from Black Lab Learnings, and attended interviewing workshops.”

But at the end of the day, both companies echoed the need to stay human. A worthwhile thing to remember, says Darja, is “to understand that we are more than our thoughts, we are more than our feelings, and we’re definitely more than our tasks and our to-do lists.” While such advice might seem a bit obvious, Darja recommends writing it down on a post-it note as an easy-to-see reminder.

“This is a wave, and it will pass by,” says Darja. “It really helps to escape from the Zoom chaos that is going on in our lives.”

Want to learn more? Watch the full video of their talk below


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