What the pandemic has bought to the fore is that in stressful and turbulent situations, workplaces will only be sustainable if leaders can empathise with their employees, nurture their capacity to face adversity and help them to recover from setbacks. Since the creation of healthy work environments is the responsibility of leadership, this article reveals four essential qualities of leaders that would help develop resilient and sustainable workplaces.
1. Empathetic leadership: Caring for employees and integrating their input into decision-making processes are critical for an organisation’s survival and stability in crisis. Managers leading in this style embrace empathy, integrity, trustworthiness, and humility. Positive communication and support provided by such leaders assist employees to navigate hardships and re-build their confidence. Leaders should empathize with the followers to anticipate early warning signals and be quick to meet their needs.
2. Resourcing resilience: Servant leaders put their followers first, empower them and help them in developing their personal and professional capabilities including resilience. Resilience is nurtured when employees see their work role models/leaders as caring individuals who prioritise collective needs over personal needs to promote the common good. Managers should create a work culture of compassion and care by being attentive to the concerns and needs of employees and provide necessary support to help them combat difficult situations. They should invest in developing their employee’s full personal capacities.
3. Developing resilient mindsets among employees: Resilience mindsets have become a necessity for employees to survive crisis. Cultivating resilience mindsets requires committed leaders who could emotionally connect with employees and help in reinterpreting or reappraising the adverse situation. Empowering your employees, engaging in authentic communication with them and providing them with opportunities to cultivate strong ties at work also helps to develop employees’ resilience capacity.
4. Encouraging compassion and support between employees: Servant leaders can significantly improve the quality of work environments by setting strong standards for compassionate behaviours between employees and cultivating a culture of mutual respect and care. For starters, this means eliminating bullying in the workplace, which can be extremely caustic in crises. Instead of workers turning on each other with a dog-eat-dog mentality, leaders should encourage employees to support each other. Leaders must get in the habit of helping others and use compassion to strengthen community and bring positive change in times of turbulence.
Servant leadership role models
Classic servant leaders include Nelson Mandela and Pakistan’s Abdus Sattar Edhi. Two contemporary leaders with servant leadership qualities we can turn to as role models today are Colleen Barret and Angela Merkel.
Colleen Barrett, the former president of Southwest Airlines, instituted the Golden Rule as the company’s motto and developed a business model that prioritises employees concerns and satisfaction. This ethic of reciprocity is common across many cultures. It involves that one treats others as s/he wants to be treated.
Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel also embodied the servant leadership philosophy, using her influence to create an inclusive and equitable economy. While she acted as the servant of the population, this in no way made her weaker. She was a clear-sighted and decisive leader, rising to become the most effective and respected statesperson in Europe during her period in power.
Dr Saima Ahmad, Associate Professor Shelley Marshall and Mohammad Nazim: Business and Human Rights Research Centre, RMIT College of Business and Law