Responsibility in the Time of COVID-19

Steve Lefton, PLA, AICP
Kimley-Horn President

We’ve all received a lot of information about COVID-19. Rightfully so—it’s a global pandemic impacting the way we live, work, and interact. Some companies are struggling to survive, and others are reinventing themselves to stay afloat; people are finding new ways to connect; and we’re all anxious to see how it affects our future. There’s not a lot I can say that hasn’t already been said, and I sure don’t profess to know more than the medical professionals, scientists, and first responders. Yet I can’t sit idle as I keep thinking about one thing: my personal responsibility. As a CEO, a father and husband, and an American citizen, I feel a deep sense of responsibility for my company, my family, and my community. While some may see these as conflicting responsibilities, I’ve found ample opportunity to fulfill them at the same time.

The Responsible Leader

What does it mean to be a responsible leader? To me, the most important things are keeping your staff safe and your company operational. After all, a company unable to function is a company unable to support its most basic purpose: providing an environment for its people to flourish. Social distancing to flatten the curve? Absolutely. But responsible leadership also means communicating often and transparently—even if the message may not be received well by some. And keeping your staff safe means supporting their well-being, too, with tools to work remotely, benefits to cope with stress and anxiety, and a sense of hopefulness and security for the future.

For this sense of security, I look to Kimley-Horn’s core values, one of which is delivering exceptional service to clients. Many of our clients provide critical infrastructure to the world and need our expertise during this crisis. They include power and telecommunications clients supporting critical infrastructure for the whole country, especially for our first responders; hospital clients preparing mobile beds and medical facilities for patients; retail clients improving systems to deliver essential goods to customers; pharmaceutical clients planning mobile testing operations for the sick; and public sector clients keeping roads and water systems safe for all of us. The work we do with clients is important to our communities, and as a responsible leader, I am reinforcing that notion to my teammates as we forge ahead with our projects and commitments. Our work makes a difference. We are fortunate that our 4,000-plus staff can work from home, and we have a responsibility to do so, as an economic engine and a critical link in the nation’s infrastructure and supply chain.

The Responsible Parent

As a father of three, I know that parenthood demands the highest form of responsibility. With schools closed across the nation, our children need comfort and engagement now more than ever. We should talk to them about COVID-19 in a meaningful way, not to shield them from reality, but to give them context and comfort. We can use online educational resources to challenge their minds as if they were in the classroom and encourage them to get outside. Setting and keeping a new routine is important during these times, and I am so grateful for my lovely wife who is now the household school principal, arts and crafts teacher, athletic director, and administrator of love and hugs.

I’m also a son with responsibilities to my parents and in-laws, who are on the other end of the spectrum from our kids. They are our higher-risk family members, and as hard as it may be, we need to restrict our face-to-face interaction with them. We’re relying on emails, texts, and FaceTime calls to gain their perspective and wisdom, give them the joy of remaining connected with their grandchildren, and make sure they have access to food and medicine without going out in public.

Lastly, in the middle of that spectrum, is me. I know it’s important to eat healthy, exercise, and focus on my mental health so I can carry out my responsibilities to my family in this time of need. I still get up at 5:45 am for my workout and get dressed like I’m going into work, but then I walk downstairs to my home office and start the day.

The Responsible Citizen

The easiest way to be a responsible citizen is to comply with government orders: stay home to stop the spread of the virus. Another way is to maintain business operations when possible and support those who have no choice but to shut their doors. Kimley-Horn is fortunate to be part of an industry that continues to work, and it is on us to help keep the economy alive for our neighbors and friends. We can give back to our communities by donating to local hospitals, ordering online from our favorite retailers, or grabbing a meal to go from the restaurant down the block. If we want to be able to go to that restaurant when this is all behind us, then we better help them now.

I suppose it would be easy to feel burdened by these responsibilities. I don’t. I feel fortunate to have them and proud to be able to fulfill them. A lot has changed over the past few weeks, but I have faith that the things we love will all return. I’m looking forward to face-to-face collaboration, a sold-out Springsteen concert, coaching my daughter’s lacrosse team, and watching my sons’ games. Ah, and dinner with friends in the city. Until then, let’s take care of ourselves, our families, and our communities. I’d love to know—do you feel the same sense of personal responsibility during this crisis? If so, how are you living it out?

Original article published on LinkedIn