Soft leadership is the glue for the new way of working

Soft leadership is the glue for the new way of working

Many reports and analyses have started to pour on the effects of the pandemic on mankind in general. One of them, however, has the potential to remain ingrained: a complete overhaul of our way of working.

di Guido Stratta, Head of People and Organization at Enel
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Isn’t it amazing that, since last year, a hundred years of hierarchy and credos of corporate organizations have gone away? If we were to turn back time and have somebody tell us that most of us would be working from home daily, and seamlessly, it would have sounded like something out of a Sci-Fi movie. But it is not, it is the reality of how we are still living to this day and it is the proof of our adaptability.

Last year in March, in just a couple of minutes we all found ourselves in a whole new work dimension. We had to work remotely. It was hard. We were scared. We learned many things. We learned that people’s faith in their own abilities is a big deal, and it matters. We relied on people’s capability, and we had a chance to practice kindness on a whole new level. Some of us might have been helped in this digital transition by our children, our friends and our siblings. We learned all the IT platforms for connecting remotely, we downloaded apps. And it is ironic that, before, we used to tease teenagers about being hyper-connected, while today it’s my son who says, “What are you doing? Disconnect!”.

We were taught by a global pandemic that a different future could enable us to advance in our world and achieve results. What have we learnt? We have learnt that with people’s trust we can go far, that the capacity to find new systems of interacting can bring results. Now that there is light at the end of this “tunnel,” we got back to our colleagues, and asked them how should we work together, once the emergency is over.

The results were, not surprisingly, all in favor of keeping the newfound flexibility. From Peru to Russia, our colleagues at Enel have said that it is nice to see each other, however, this should be an occasion for added value events – such as welcoming new hires, new colleagues, brainstorming for an important project or celebrating team success together. For the rest of the work, we might not need to return to the office, face the long commute in trains or cars, the traffic jams or anxiety about not finding a parking space. So, we can find a balance and this will be our future.

Will this hybrid model be the right one for us? We do not know yet; we are experimenting humbly and we will fine-tune it together as we go along. We might begin with some days of the month for everybody in person to do these things and to see each other. But then people will be able to decide autonomously whether to come in more or not, reserving their desk. Before, there were formal headquarters, with traditional offices. Tomorrow, think about “hubquarters,” with people coming and going according to their priorities.

Perhaps this new dimension could be disconcerting, but we need to approach it with a spirit of experimentation, with our hearts, knowing that together we can change anything. One thing is important: apart from a couple of days per month in which the whole team can reunite, it will not be the managers who will tell us when we should come in and office life should not be dictated by presenteeism.

For managers as well it will be a moment to reevaluate their leadership style and embrace kindness, as old leadership styles will not function in a new hybrid way of working. So, why not try soft leadership?

Soft leadership is a paradox. Many people think: How can you lead others by being kind? I will waste time; I won’t be credible. How cool is it to go into a meeting and have that stance that says, “I’m the boss”?

On closer examination, however, kindness in leadership means leading, giving directions, managing emotions and creating meaning, which is even more important when you are dealing with a team remotely. How is it possible to create meaning with orders? If people do not internalize the challenge, if they do not feel like they are taking part: it won’t work, no matter how many orders you give.

Soft leadership is becoming even more relevant in the new age of hybrid work, where it can be the glue that keeps the team motivated and results coming.  People need to be able to bring their passions onboard, their story and, as managers, we must be mindful of that, otherwise they will feel as if they are being treated like simple numbers on a chart. Kindness retrieves this sense of identity and helps people flourish in the new world of work.