In our Global Leaders in Law and Schillings Be Kind Report, Rachel Atkins discusses the importance of resilience, kindness in leadership and the impact that COVID-19 is having on ‘kind business culture’.
Why does kindness in leadership matter?
Simply put because we’re all people – not machines. Treating people with kindness and respect at work is a basic tenet of politeness; in the same way you’d hold open a door for a stranger at the supermarket, we should be thoughtful in our actions at work. The added bonus is people generally work more effectively when they’re treated with kindness – so as a leader it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing. Early on in my career I did some work for a high profile entrepreneur – we were simply doing the work he was paying us to do, but he always made a point of thanking us whenever we interacted with him. I have no idea if he really meant it – but what I do know is it made us want to stay in the office and do the best job we could for him. Ultimately people work for people, and we all tend to put in extra effort when we feel valued. You also get out what you put in – if you look out for someone when they’re unwell or having a tough time, those people will look after you when you’re in that position. It doesn’t matter if you’re running a team of 3 or 103; we’re programmed function as part of a tribe.
What impact do you think COVID-19 has had/will have on ‘kind business culture’?
COVID-19 requires us to be more ‘consciously kind’ than we might have been before. By that I mean taking a moment to consider the impact of your words and actions more than you might normally do. This is easy in an office environment – you can go over and talk to someone if there’s a problem, or explain what you mean if work you’ve received back isn’t quite right. You can also pick up on people’s moods and work levels much more easily – you might be able to see someone is visibly stressed and choose another moment to ask for something. Working from home, it’s much tougher to do this. We might fire off an email at the worst possible time for the other person, or say “good to go” when what we actually meant was “thank you so much for doing this”. I also think it’s really hard on new joiners to the business at the moment. It’s much easier to build honest and trusted relationships in person. When we’re new in a job I think we all feel pressure to produce work that’s perfect – when the reality is it’s often by collaborating and asking for help that we get the best answers. But it’s hard to do this when you’re new and haven’t picked up on how everyone else is working.
Finally, kind business culture also shouldn’t be confused with not working hard. 2020 is a tough and unsettling year and we need to work hard and stay focused to succeed. It’s not always easy – and as a leader you sometimes need your team to really push themselves. But the way you communicate this message, how you check in with people, and how you thank them when it’s done can make all the difference.
How do you ensure you remain resilient and you pass on a resilient mindset to your team?
Resilience is essential in what we do. If you’re a litigator you’re there to stand up for people and win a fight – and that’s not always easy. In my experience, the word ‘resilient’ often seems to be mistakenly used as meaning ‘not getting upset by things’. Things go wrong, they don’t always go according to plan, the key is how you bounce back. Pick yourself and get on with it, do even better or find a way round the roadblock. Don’t simply blame everyone else. It’s what we do next and how we move on – that’s where resilience lies.
Being in the office together you can always grab someone, take a deep breath and have a cup of tea – but it’s hard to do this when we’re working remotely. I recommend doing something to stop the spiral of negative thoughts when something happens. Step away from your computer, do some exercise, call someone you can be honest with – talk things through out loud. Having honest relationships with colleagues makes all the difference; someone you can go to and say “Can I pick your brains – what do you think?”. At Schillings we have a buddy system for new joiners – where new people get to know different people each week. It structures the team in the right way so people feel confident asking questions. I do this with the people around me in the hope they will then emulate it in the way they interact with other colleagues. Doing this, we can help each other to be more resilient.
*You can request a copy of the Report from: [email protected]