Business leaders must instil kindness for Covid-19 recovery

Businessman Presenting

A new survey has found that harder characteristics are most important when displaying kind leadership in a crisis.

The findings demonstrate how courage changed from the least to the most important characteristic, when comparing a crisis to ‘normal’ work scenarios. The survey also revealed that over a third of UK workers consider optimism to be the most important leadership quality when recovering from a crisis, and this is supported by almost a third of the global workforce.

These findings have been inspired by a unique collaboration between Saïd Business School, Global Thinkers Forum, Women of the Future and Hall & Partners, which has looked at the value of kind leadership in a crisis, compared with ‘normal’ everyday work and beyond. Leadership in a crisis can take many forms, but importantly, kindness is found to underpin any and every response required to help an organisation successfully navigate the current pandemic and to keep staff happy and engaged.

Courageous and resilient leadership is needed in a crisis

In a crisis, people shared what they consider to be the most important attribute of kind leadership, which changes significantly when comparing to ‘normal’. In everyday life courageousness is the lowest ranked attribute at just 7%, however this reverses completely in a crisis, with both courage and resilience coming out on top. This indicates how the current pandemic has redefined kindness and create a tougher stance that is needed for future leadership success.

However, the requirements from kind leaders change as we progress through different stages of a crisis. Almost three quarters (74%) of people agree it’s more important to be adaptable rather than rallying, suggesting the workforce looks to leaders to respond effectively, rather than expecting outright motivational talk when in the middle of navigating a crisis.

Meanwhile, 62% of employees said it’s more important to be optimistic rather than candid and 69% agree it’s more important to be resilient rather than compassionate. This indicates the traditional ‘softer’ view of kindness takes on different forms as crises develop over time and people change what they look to their leaders for in recovery.

Kind leadership creates long-term loyalty

As we look forward to recovery and with the potential global threat of a second wave approaching, leaders and businesses need to adapt and move quickly to embrace optimism as a key part of long-term recovery plans.

With 58% of the global workforce believing that the kind actions taken by their company during this crisis has made them want to stay for longer than they originally planned, this indicates the power of kinder human responses in establishing greater employee engagement and loyalty.

To understand the true meaning of kindness in leadership and its resonance now, and particularly as businesses prepare for the next stages of recovery, Marc Ventresca, Associate Professor of Strategic Management at Saïd Business School and Governing Body Fellow at Wolfson College, University of Oxford, shares his definition of kindness: “The work of leading with kindness starts from empathy, engages complexity, context, and contradictions, and then acts with discipline and respect to address the near-term and with priority for a sustainable, inclusive longer-term.”

Organisations must instil a permanent state of kindness

Looking ahead, the post-Covid-19 workplace is looking very different to the world of work we previously inhabited and it won’t return to ‘normal’ overnight. However, businesses can now seize this unique opportunity to support workers physically returning to work and prove how kindness is truly embedded in their leadership approach to drive permanent and long-lasting organisational change.

With 45% of employees worldwide saying they want more flexible work options this suggests greater flexibility, made possible by the pandemic, will also be key to retaining individuals during this next recovery phase. Global calls for long-term change are being led by employees from both sides of the Atlantic, as the British and American workforce lead rising demands for permanent flexible work arrangements.

The second most important requirement of future workplace kindness is to receive regular updates on company plans. The global workforce has been clear that they want to be better informed and have a clearer oversight of their organisation’s direction, values and overall purpose, particularly during a crisis. Many people are facing indefinite job insecurity as the threat of a deeper global recession looms. Companies will therefore need to step up and communicate with greater clarity on business continuity and long-term recovery strategies to invoke confidence and engage their employees.

These elements will play a crucial role in both attracting and retaining future talent in our global workforce, at all levels of seniority and job roles. Organisations will need to move quickly to embed a kindness-centric approach over the next few months, but with the understanding that this needs to be a more permanent shift in order to fully resonate with its post-pandemic workforce.

Elizabeth Filippouli, Founder & CEO of Global Thinkers Forum, said: ““By demonstrating kindness we affirm social inclusion and we create the antidote to negative emotions in times of crisis. Nurturing the value of kindness should be a strategic decision for every leader who wishes to build a culture – and legacy – of greatness.”

Pinky Lilani CBE, Women of the Future: “2020 has taught us all a lot about leadership, but it has also shown us that we need to stand for what we believe in, find our own voice and make sure that we honour and support the leadership that we want to succeed. Kindness in leadership is not a ‘nice-to-have’, it has the power to effect positive change quickly in this fragile world. Nominations are open for our Kindness & Leadership, 50 Leading Lights UK, please look to nominate a leader for this year’s list and shine a light on positive role models.”