Teacher: Business ‘Next Normal’ Should Include Leadership Kindness

In recent memory, the world has seen profound changes in almost every facet of business and society, and change is happening.

While taking center stage (with good reason), the pandemic is not the only pressing issue facing humanity. In a torrent of contemporary challenges, COVID-19 has accelerated some changes that were inevitable, highlighted the need of others, and served as a backdrop to the constant flow of an evolving world.

The business community has a leading role to play in every major issue of our time, and the opportunities and risks in each are great. It’s more important than ever to take an active role in shaping the future as leaders navigate and co-create the “next normal”.

Whether we will have the ‘Roaring Twenties’ or the ‘Roaring Twenties’ remains to be seen, but strong leadership will be essential as businesses learn from the past, tackle pressing problems head-on and plan for the future.

Since March 2020, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, a cascading series of crises in global health, jobs, social justice and political divisions have laid bare for many managers and leaders just how porous the boundaries between life and work really are. are. Each wave worsened the next, leaving many workers caught in cycles of uncertainty, anxiety and stress. On a very large scale, it’s been a moment of truth to see what’s real and choose to respond with “the usual” – or with the kindness of leadership.

“For many of the leaders I have listened to, the relatively sudden impact of the lockdown has highlighted their awareness of our common humanity,” said Lili Powell, who holds an unusual joint position at the Darden School of Business and School. from the University of Virginia. nursing.

Here are several tips she has for employers and managers when it comes to getting through this time of big change.

Leading with Mindfulness

In any crisis, a challenge is managing your own stress response and responsiveness in order to see clearly and choose wisely, said Powell, associate professor of business administration Julie Logan Sands and Kluge-Schakat professor of nursing, as well as the director of the Compassionate Care Initiative association.

Mindful leadership begins with recognizing what is, said Powell. “It’s a courageous commitment to push back on distractions and denial and to face reality. Recognizing first what we see and our experience, we can give shape and form to perception by “naming” it.

“Take a break and see – really see – what other people are going through. If someone says they’re feeling emotional, ask them what that might mean to them. And you ? What are you feeling right now? Whatever your answers, do yourself a favor and write them down or say them softly to yourself.

Powell’s work has focused on the development and application of mindfulness, compassion, and leadership communication skills, particularly during high-stakes presentations and interactions. As she wrote in a recent article on leadership along with his colleague Jeremy Hunter, a leader can micro-move in the moment to do both the inner work and the outer work of leading mindfully.

For example, mindfulness and compassion training outside of critical moments can help develop the muscles of experiential inner work to notice, change, and respond with more mindfulness and compassion in the moment. These inner movements enhance the ability to then perform skillful outer movements, such as naming an elephant in the room, reframe the way of seeing it, and inviting another person to respond in a new way. With practice over time, such movements can become second nature and therefore lead to changes in the levels of confidence and psychological safety in a team.

For more mindfulness tips, see Powell’s blog post from the start of the pandemic.

Balance grain with grace

As Powell wrote in a chapter of a new book on personal care for nursing studentsMindful leadership is about presenting oneself with an optimal balance of courage and grace, in which “courage” represents the focus and determination that mindfulness practices promote and “grace” represents the calm and kindness that compassionate practices promote.

Powell realizes that, according to stereotypes, business leaders have tended to favor courage over grace. It even appears in everyday business parlance which suggests that business is all about hard numbers and mental toughness, while the human elements are soft and sensitive. “In light of recent crises, the leaders I work with recognize that they need to operate in a more holistic way,” said Powell. “Yet it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to them. And performance metrics and reward systems in companies often value tenacity over humanity.

“So the burning question is whether the attraction to the kindness of leadership will be sustained even after the COVID-19 crisis is over – or whether leaders will return to ‘business as usual.’ “

Consider a more compassionate “normal neighbor”

Powell said the context for leadership has fundamentally changed and a “back to normal” mindset would be wrong. Instead, she sees the opportunity to set a ‘next normal’, during which leaders have a chance to see the changes that have occurred and intentionally create a new blend of courage and grace in their own. repertoire of leadership skills, one that matches new and changing circumstances.

“Compassion is a skill – a skill that individuals can cultivate within themselves and which can be built into organizations,” said Powell. From the book by Monica Worline and Jane Dutton, “Awaken compassion at work” compassion can be embedded in organizations through rituals, routines, structures and systems. Basically, the authors argue for a growing compassion as a competitive advantage that improves a number of measures, such as employees’ sense of psychological safety and confidence, which results in reduced levels of burnout. , error and rotation, and increased levels of productivity, creativity and innovation.

“The real promise of kindness in leadership comes from the understanding that compassion, or the lack of it, is not just something that is interpersonal, but structural and systemic,” explained Powell.

“If we can accept that racism is systemic and institutionalized, it stands to reason that justice and benevolence can also be systematized. But the short-term challenge will be helping individuals see the benefits on an interpersonal level so that they can develop the ability to shape teams and organizations that can authentically follow suit.

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