At a management training course earlier this year, I was asked what was the most important thing I learnt as a child that has shaped who I am today. Without hesitation, I wrote: “Be kind to everyone, always”.
It’s particularly relevant just now as this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (18 – 24 May 2020) is all about kindness. This year, the overwhelming issue is coronavirus and its effect on us and the people we care about. From a personal and professional standpoint, how we respond to the crisis and those around us is a critical part of getting through it. It has never been more important to lead with kindness and understanding.
There are signs that the business world is slowly taking this on board. The common phrase ‘kindness is weakness’ would sound out of place in most boardrooms and would no longer be considered to be appropriate, or even relevant. The alpha culture that dominated in the 1990s – based on individualism and autocratic leadership – is no longer acceptable.
This change is being led by a number of strong female leaders who are at the top of their game. Jacinda Ardern, Michelle Obama, and Mary Portas have each taken family values, empathy and compassion and woven them into their leadership style.
In her book, Work Like a Woman, Mary Portas talks a lot about being kind, and the benefits it brings – she calls it ‘the kindness economy’. It’s not to be confused with being “nice”, she says: “Kindness has a fierceness at the heart of it, because it’s about doing what’s right.”
New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern would agree. This comes across in the way she has handled the coronavirus crisis, and the results have been remarkable. Her leadership, focused on empathy, has not only provided Kiwis with the mental strength required to get through this challenging time, it has put the country on track to be one of the most successful countries to defeat the virus.
I am lucky to work in a business that genuinely values kindness and puts its people first. I wholeheartedly believe the only way through this pandemic is understanding and kindness, and that each of us has a responsibility to contribute to a supportive and caring environment.
We have seen lots of kindness recently. Whether we’re leading commercial teams, coordinating groups of volunteers or clapping for key workers on our doorsteps, I hope that we remember these kind attributes when we’re open for business again. Likewise, I hope the number of people who lead with empathy and kindness continues to grow and that these leaders become the majority, rather than the minority.