Intentionality: The Secret to Leading Remotely

This week we continue the Connex Executive Insights Series, produced in collaboration with Connex Partners, an invitation-only executive network that brings industry leaders together from the worlds of HR and Healthcare.

Connex Members are part of a cutting-edge community, finding actionable solutions to their most pressing business challenges via high-value peer exchanges and curated resources including tools, platforms, partners and c-suite networking opportunities.

Executive Insights Series features highly respected and engaging guests who share novel ideas and practices related to the latest leadership topics.

This week’s article is written by Monique Jefferson, Chief People Officer of Community Preservation Corporation (CPC) (a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) within the multi family affordable housing sector).  It is a companion piece to her interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Intentional Leadership in a New Work World that aired on January 24, 2023. 


Short clip from the interview:

Link to the entire interview:

Listen to the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-Creating Our Future via Apple PodcastsTuneInStitcherSpotify,  Amazon Music,  AudibleiHeartRADIO, and NPR One.

It feels as if the world of business has been abuzz since the early days of the pandemic with talk of hybrid and remote work: what those terms mean; what their optimal strategies and best practices are; how organizations can maintain a single, cohesive corporate culture without being inflexible about the unique needs of each distinct employee group. One question that comes up rather frequently in leadership roundtables is, how must managers change their skillsets to meet the new challenges and realities created by these alternative employment models?

Monique Jefferson, Chief People Officer for The Community Preservation Corporation (CPC), has a very practical answer to that: “This isn’t rocket science. I fundamentally believe that what made a strong manager or leader before the pandemic hasn’t changed, and that good leaders are still operating the same way.”

Jefferson is an HR professional with more than two decades of experience in understanding human capital management, HR business strategy, and leadership – experience she’s now leveraging at CPC to develop and implement their long-term strategic HCM vision with a focus on talent advancement, a growth-centric culture, and meaningful DEI action. These are all critical to CPC and their mission as the largest CDFI solely committed to investing in affordable multifamily housing. They work hard to foster a sense of community and inclusivity within the workplace, which comes about as a direct consequence of not just HR strategy, but how their leaders engage with their teams on a daily basis.

“What has changed,” Jefferson clarified, “is that leaders need to be more intentional in how they lead, manage, and keep the employee front-of-mind. The same core principles apply, but the details of their implementation have changed.”

The Importance of Intentionality

Jefferson followed with an example: Pre-pandemic, a manager may have regularly met with their team members every day. They saw them at watercoolers, at their desk, and it wasn’t hard to strike up a conversation. But now, those conversations need to be scheduled and kept consistent lest they fall out of sight and out of mind. “You’d be surprised how many leaders, to this day, still aren’t having regularly scheduled one-on-ones with their employees,” Jefferson explained before reiterating just how far such a seemingly simple act goes.

Regular, individuals facetime is critical, but Jefferson also stressed the importance of finding better ways to engage groups of employees, such as during team meetings. “Not only should participants be visible, but they should be invited into the conversation and feel welcomed to do so. Which you can enhance through small, meaningful gestures: make sure closed captioning is available so people can see what’s said if the signal gets weak; have individuals new to the team introduce themselves and make a habit of sharing their pronouns; and if you know that your team has several parents on it, don’t schedule the conversation around the time when kids will be getting out of school.”

“Leaders need to be mindful of who is on their team,” she continued, “and intentionally make time and space to connect with them – together and individually – in a way that fits their reality.”

Leading with Empathy

Underpinning Jefferson’s recommendations are the principles of meeting employees where they’re at and leading with empathy, both of which have emerged as clear best practices for any organization. The stress of the last few years has pushed many to their breaking point, and attempting to keep that individual and emotional toll somehow separate and compartmentalized from work is no longer feasible in a world where “home” and “office” have become so entangled.

In fact, as indicated by Forbes Contributor Tracy Brower, we see the need for empathy bear out very clearly in the data: nearly two-thirds of employees have experienced an increase in stress, which not only compromises sleep and personal wellness, but spills over negatively into personal lives and parenting. Their job performance has suffered, collaboration has become increasingly difficult to maintain, and the weight of it all has contributed in so many ways to the labor market’s sharp increase in turnover. But, as found in the Catalyst study cited by Brower, much of that can be remedied by empathetic leadership: 61% of employees under empathetic leaders feel they can innovate; 76% of those experiencing empathy feel more engaged; and nearly 3 times as many employees feel their workplace can be and is inclusive under empathetic leadership versus those teams where empathy was not prioritized.

Despite the more touchy-feely reputation empathy has, it’s able to drive organizational culture, strong managerial relationships, and even business results in a way that other leadership competencies simply cannot. It’s part of who we are as humans, as evidenced by this Evolutionary Biology study into how the introduction of empathy into our decision-making corresponded with a clear increase in cooperation and performance. Or, how research at the University of Virginia indicated that our brains are hardwired to experience the same threats and emotions we perceive our friends and teammates experiencing. By tapping into that innate potential, leaders can more easily, effectively, and compassionately achieve their team objectives.

Empathy Versus Sympathy

However, Jefferson cautions that there is a distinct difference between empathy and sympathy, with the latter leading to disastrous consequences.

“These two things look very similar, but they are not. Here’s an analogy: say an employee is in crisis, down in a ditch. Their manager is above them, and wants to help them out of the hole. Empathy is listening to that employee, understanding their plight, connecting it to your own experience, and using that to find a way out, helping hand outstretched. Sympathy, however, is connecting too strongly and deeply with that employee, and choosing to jump in with them so you can wallow together. It prevents the situation from moving forward, and results in the core problem going unaddressed.”

“An effective, empathetic leader creates space for the employee to get their frustrations out,” she continued, “before using a series of probing and leading questions to help direct, influence, and counsel the employee into the solution phase.” Jefferson stresses that those leading questions are more important than they may sound, as trying to fix the problem for them, or forcing a solution onto them does the employee a disservice. By helping them create the solution instead, employees are empowered, come away feeling more accomplished, and have more time to adjust and sustain the changes they need to make.

The Intentional Leader

“All of that – being mindful of employee realities, creating inclusive spaces, leading with empathy – starts with listening to employees and being open to really hearing them. What other people need is often different than what you’d need in that same situation,” Jefferson clarified, “and it may even be different than what you want to give. By asking employees how they can best be supported, what they value, what success looks like to them, and what they need to feel safe bringing their authentic selves to work, leaders put themselves in a position to lead with intentionality.”



Monique Jefferson is an expert in human capital management with an instinct for determining the impact of organizational change, particularly on marginalized groups. She is a results-oriented, proven human resources executive with over 20 years of global experience in the financial services, legal, Insurance, media, non-profit and professional services industries. She provides strategic input and guidance to leadership teams to drive growth, ensuring alignment of organizational objectives with human capital considerations while maintaining a strong focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. Monique has led regional and global teams to deliver value-add human capital solutions to c-suite executives. Her primary areas of expertise include talent and performance management, compensation, leadership development, diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging, talent acquisition, executive coaching, cultural change, employee engagement, training, employee and labor relations.

Monique currently serves as Chief People Officer of Community Preservation Corporation (CPC) (a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) within the multi family affordable housing sector) where she develops the human resources strategic plan and builds a culture that will enable CPC to attract, engage, grow and retain a high performing, diverse workforce. Monique previously served as the Chief Human Resources Officer of New York Public Radio, the second largest public media company in the U.S., where she led a culture transformation and implemented the first Race Equity Action plan for the organization. She has also served as the Head of HR for Business Services across the Americas region and head of the global HR business partner function for Hogan Lovells, an AmLaw 25 international law firm. Additionally, Monique was Vice President of Human Resources and senior HR business partner at New York Life Insurance Company. As a Senior HR Business Partner, she led a team that provided HR client support to all corporate functions and was the strategic HR advisor to 5 executive management committee members including the enterprise CFO, General Counsel, Chief Risk officer, Chief Compliance Officer and Chief Actuary.

Prior to joining New York Life Insurance in 2009, Ms. Jefferson spent over seven years with Merrill Lynch in the Global Markets & Investment Banking division. In 2008, Ms. Jefferson was promoted to Director of human resources where she was the senior HR relationship manager for Investment Banking covering the domestic offices, Latin America, Canada and the Financial Institutions group globally.

Before going to Merrill Lynch, Monique worked at Bristol Myers Squibb pharmaceuticals as a sales staffing specialist and manager of leadership development. In 1998, Ms. Jefferson also worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers as a resource manager where she handled the internal mobility and career development of associates and interns within the assurance practice. Ms. Jefferson began her career as a financial auditor in the New York office of Ernst & Young LLP.

Ms. Jefferson is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR & SHRM-SCP) and was an instructor at the New York Institute of Technology, where she taught the SHRM learning system course for the PHR/SPHR exam. She is also an executive coach and is certified in The Leadership Circle Profile.

Ms. Jefferson graduated from Bentley University with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting and holds a Master of Science in Human Resources Management from the New School University. Ms. Jefferson is a recipient of the Harlem YMCA Black Achievers in Industry recognition, The Network Journal’s 40 under 40 and 25 Influential Black Women in Business awards, Get5 HR Hero award for outstanding volunteerism, EMpower Ethnic Minority top 100 executives, and Crain’s New York HR Notable. She is an active member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the Brooklyn chapter of The Links, Incorporated, board member and past President of the CALIBR Global Leadership Network, past board member of the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources (NAAAHR) greater NY chapter and is a member of the New School alumni advisory council. Additionally, Ms. Jefferson has served on the board of trustees for the Lefferts Gardens Charter School, where she was board chair from 2011 – 2013.



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Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-Creating Our Future via Apple PodcastsTuneInStitcherSpotify,  Amazon Music,  AudibleiHeartRADIO, and NPR One. Also, stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute on LinkedIn.

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