Kindness: the must have leadership trait in 2020

In response to this year’s dramatic events, Mental Health Awareness Week has changed its theme. It was going to be “sleep”. Now it’s “kindness”.

This is a loud and clear message: for business leaders, kind is the new strong. Compassion has never been a more vital leadership trait.

If you’re an employer, you may be panicking as COVID-19 turns your business upside-down. But remember, your greatest business asset is your people. Now more than ever, you need to protect that asset.

Simply resolving to be kind isn’t enough. You know how to be kind to your family and your neighbours – but do you know how to be kind to an entire company, when every person in that company is stressed out?

If you want your kindness to be effective, you need a clear roadmap. Read on for 10 ways to become a kind leader – during coronavirus and beyond.

  1. Take the lead in creating a culture where people can be themselves and be open about their struggles. (Yes – that means you get to be open about yours.) According to a large-scale study by Google Teams, one of the main traits of the most effective teams is “psychological safety”, meaning people feel safe to be honest.
  2. Always share your favourite tips for productivity and work-life balance, and encourage your people to do the same. Make your organisation one where everyone supports each other in being their best selves.
  3. As we adapt to the new normal, keep reviewing how things are done. For example, if you notice people are struggling with interruptions while working from home, give them express permission to make themselves “unavailable” for a period of time.
  4. Be a visible leader. Talk to your people and connect with them on a real and honest level. Be understanding about new pressures they may be facing, like trying to juggle homeschooling and work.
  5. Keep your professional connections going. If you can’t all get together for team meetings right now, how about creating a monthly staff newsletter to which everyone can contribute, and maybe including some awards for the MVPs of the month?
  7. Keep the social connections going too. We’ve all become acutely aware of the value of watercooler moments now they’re gone. Try doing a team lunch on Zoom once a week, and encourage people to have a virtual coffee together and chat about life outside work.
  8. Make sure your people have what they need to connect with each other and to do their best work. That person who’s always invisible or barely audible on Zoom meetings? Ask them privately if you can buy them a new webcam or microphone. That person who keeps losing work to computer crashes? If you can, offer to buy them a laptop. That person who takes five million years to download video files? Ask them if a little extra money would enable them to upgrade their internet.
  9. Don’t just pay lip-service to the concept of work-life balance. Especially now, when working hours are expanding in the absence of a nine-to-five routine, actively encourage your people to get enough sleep and make time to relax, have fun and take care of their bodies. You’ll be rewarded with better productivity and morale.
  10. Be aware that people who are drowning need time off, and will very rarely ask for it, because they blame themselves for their overwhelm and burnout. If you see this happening, don’t wait for them to ask; offer. No matter how much work there is, an exhausted employee is liable to be unproductive at best and make disastrous mistakes at worst.
  11. As workplaces reopen, continue to allow flexible working where you can, and make it very clear that nobody will be penalised for wanting to work from home. To be fair to everyone, consider a part-time approach: even if nobody can work from home all the time, maybe everyone can work from home some of the time.

As you follow these tips, notice how being kinder boosts your own morale too. Notice how it boosts your business when people really know they belong and are valued. When the pandemic is over, hopefully the spirit of kindness and generosity it created will remain and become a normal part of leadership in every organisation.