Leading With Empathy

As we navigate this unfamiliar season, let us learn and grow and lead with kindness.

by Banu Hatfield, Zion Coffee Co
Mike & Banu Hatfield
Mike & Banu Hatfield of Zion Coffee Co, June 5, 2020

Possibilities. I remember entering into 2020 with high hopes and a strong focus to look for new possibilities for our business. To be completely transparent, these first six months have challenged us beyond anything we’ve ever experienced as small business owners. And I know we are not alone. 

Shortly after going through a devastating personal loss in our family, the pandemic hit us in March. I remember having a conversation with Mike at that time and making the commitment to each other that no matter what, we would lead with empathy. We would listen, learn and do what is right—for us, for our team, for our community. I can honestly say this has been our focus for the past few months. 

Love for Community 
Mike HatfieldThe day we made the difficult decision to close our doors to our customers in the hopes of doing our share to flatten the curve for COVID-19 happened to coincide with the Illinois primary elections. I remember walking into an empty Zion that day, feeling at a loss, not knowing what to expect next. Sitting in the quiet, I reflected on how we could keep showing love to our community even if we couldn’t be together. 

That day, I decided to deliver some coffee to the volunteers at a nearby polling place. It brought me so much joy to see everyone excited about receiving this humble gift. Over the next few days, I continued to drop off coffee around town, to those working on the front lines. What started as a simple idea quickly grew into a bigger idea when some friends asked to be a part of the giving and started purchasing boxes of coffee to be delivered. 

That idea grew into even a bigger idea when we launched our #zionlove program to include our customers who wanted to sponsor boxes of coffee for local essential workers. Over the past few months, we’ve delivered many boxes of coffee to hospitals, schools, postal and delivery services, police departments, fire stations, grocery stores and pharmacies around the Peoria area. 

Voices to be Heard
In the midst of this pandemic, so much is being demanded from small business owners. We are trying so hard to navigate how to keep what used to be a thriving business to simply survive. Like many other small business owners, we are constantly pivoting—trying to maximize our resources and lower our costs, looking for innovative ways to serve our customers while keeping everyone safe and healthy, and managing financial pressures—all the while remaining optimistic for our staff and our community. 

But that is not enough. 

These days, being a small business owner is not just about customer service or managing social media or accounting. As our nation experiences civil unrest, small business owners are also expected to be leaders for social justice, a voice for those experiencing poverty and homelessness, visible activists at rallies, generous donors to human rights organizations. While it is unrealistic and unfair to expect small businesses to be all things to all needs, we are committed to picking a lane and putting our resources and energy toward running our best race. 

It is not lost on us that our privilege has opened many doors that have led us to Zion. As leaders in our community, we are also aware that we have a voice, one that is heard. Our words and our actions matter. Our heart is to lead with empathy, showing our genuine care and concern for others, especially our Black community members. We see their pain and we stand with them, because Black lives matter. 

Learning and Growing
As we continue to navigate this unfamiliar season of a global pandemic and civil unrest, here’s my challenge:

  • For Zion: to be willing to listen, learn and unlearn; to demonstrate our commitment to doing the anti-racism work and taking tangible actions;
  • For our fellow small business owners: to learn and grow; to speak up even when it feels uncomfortable;
  • For our community: to continue to show love and support to small businesses who desperately need you.

We don’t know what challenges tomorrow will bring, but today our focus remains to serve Peoria the best we can. Some days are definitely harder than others. We are truly humbled we’ve made it this far, thanks to all who have shown us their support time and time again. 

Let us lead with kindness and empathy, Peoria. Better days are ahead. PM

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