I managed to silence a virtual room of colleagues the other week with a simple question. What kind act have you done today for which you have no intention of being repaid? It’s not that I work with a bunch of cold-hearted colleagues, devoid of basic empathy. Far from it.
But while everyone is trying hard to adjust to our new work-home-life arrangements, most agreed they were struggling to find time for virtual coffees or informal chats which no longer held the same place in their schedules as they would have done in a physical setting. Screen fatigue, exhaustion from dealing with the first and now second lockdown, isolation, and a sense of always feeling “on” were just a few of the reasons people gave.
And so, how should leaders respond to the challenge of engaging their workforce at a time when happiness and motivation levels are at an all time low?
Every year, thousands of new books are published on leadership. Most dedicate long chapters to the importance of having a vision, being authentic, and having a clear strategic direction with the energy to drive projects forwards. Yes, everyone agrees those traits are important. But very few spend time discussing the value of kindness in leadership.
Since March 2020, as employers have tried to establish completely different ways of supporting colleagues, compassion and understanding are now the two must-have qualities for leaders.
“Kind leaders motivate, make people feel valued and – most importantly – people feel like they want to be in an organisation where they feel valued.”Commented author and motivational speaker, Pinky Lilani in a recent podcast interview with us at Portland.
Pinky has frequently voiced her belief that kindness is the key to workplace success, especially she says, during the pandemic. She was also recently involved in a research collaboration with Hall & Partners and University of Oxford Said Business School, which delved deep into global leadership styles since the start of Covid-19. The quality that stood out? You guessed it, kindness.
The survey found that three in five global workers (58%) believe the kind actions taken by their company in the last year has made them want to stay longer than originally planned. For Pinky, kindness is about being courageous, listening to others, being open and most importantly not sugar-coating the facts.
Air BnB’s Co-Founder and CEO Brian Chesky definitely falls into that camp for his handling of the 1,900 redundancies the company made last year. But sadly, there are countless examples of other businesses that have got their communications very wrong in recent months. Choices on how to communicate staff departures or simply address colleagues on public calls are critically important, and the repercussions so vast when handled badly. Kindness as a leadership style is no longer ‘soft’ or ‘weak’, it is a powerful tool that can help businesses and leaders to win.
Pinky Lilani CBE DL on kindness in leadership
Kindness is the difference between a successful leader and a significant one; this is what author, motivational speaker and women’s advocate Pinky Lilani CBE DL believes. Founder and chair of several awards recognising excellence in leadership and celebrating women in business, Lilani in this episode speaks to host and Director at Portland, Claire Hardy, about dispelling the idea that kindness is synonymous with weakness, how the best leaders have an agenda bigger than themselves, and effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on women in the (increasingly remote) workplace.