Kindness is the key to workplace success in our post-Covid world – Pinky Lilani CBE DL


The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy, business and our own personal lives. But it has also placed leadership under the microscope, accelerating our understanding of the challenges leaders face and the qualities required to navigate a way through a crisis. What can we learn from our experiences and how can we implement changes to ensure we build the resilience and adaptability required for COVID-19 recovery?

A new global survey conducted by Hall & Partners, and inspired by a unique and separate collaboration with the Global Thinkers Forum, University of Oxford Saïd Business School and the Women of the Future Programme, has delved deep into global leadership styles that have been truly effective at this time. The one quality that shines out above all others? Kindness.

The survey revealed that nearly three in five global workers (58%) believe the kind actions taken by their company during Covid-19 has made them want to stay longer than originally planned. Kind leadership has been key and will be even more critical in the coming months to keep staff motivated and engaged.

The survey has also pushed us further in our understanding of ‘kind’ leadership. Almost three quarters (74%) of respondents agree it’s more important to be adaptable rather than rallying, suggesting that action, rather than purely motivational talk is key in crisis. Historically, kindness in business has been seen as a ‘soft’ skill, and even a weakness. These results now point to kindness as the essential quality required when tough decision making is needed. Indeed kindness is being courageous in the midst of turmoil; it’s a long-term commitment to empowering and listening to others; it’s the tireless pursuit of inclusion, and it’s being honest, open and not sugar-coating the facts (read the full Kindness Leadership During Crisis findings here).

In this period of radical change, there has been plenty of radical thinking, too. Projects that may have taken years to come to fruition have cut through the red tape and been delivered in record time. The age old ‘flexible working isn’t an option’ line has been dealt an almighty blow. So much of what we thought was ‘just not possible’, has been proved wrong. So how can we take what we have learnt about effective leadership and ensure permanent cultural change that will help businesses and individuals to recover and thrive?

One first step is to cement flexible working options. Almost half (49%) of UK employees are leading the global charge for these options to underpin future kindness at work. Businesses also need to look for ways in which to create a culture of kindness, to create new habits and behaviours that build motivation, collaboration and trust.

Next steps will include meeting the needs of the global workforce; namely regular company updates and keeping communication channels open so that there’s a greater understanding of business values, purpose and direction. With job insecurity a reality for so many, it will also be vital to build confidence and team engagement by sharing long-term recovery strategies.
Furthermore, businesses must put plans in place to address the disproportionate effect that the pandemic has had on women – from family life and childcare to home-schooling and, of course, economically. The IMF believes the pandemic may well see the gender gap widening significantly, with 30 years of progress for women being quickly forgotten. We simply can’t let that gender gap widen.

The time is now to define the leadership style and business culture that we want to succeed and so I encourage you all to nominate remarkable kind leaders for the Kindness & Leadership, 50 Leading Lights 2020 list. This leadership style is not a ‘nice-to-have’, it has the power to effect positive change in this fragile world.