Is There Room For Kindness In Leadership?


I hope so. But I have to be honest, it seems as though the two are constantly pitted at odds with each other. Leaders don’t think they have time for kindness. It’s viewed as a luxury or worse yet, not important. For some reason, people believe that to be a successful leader one must not show any signs of vulnerability. And kindness is commonly linked to vulnerability. Leaders are typically characterized as being tough, unwavering and dogged or aloof, distant and removed. In either case, there’s no room for kindness. It’s too wimpy. It’s too new age. It’s too nice. And yet, overwhelmingly people want to work for someone who will support and respect them…being kind. That’s what motivates people, even more so than money. Why is such a simple concept so difficult to put in practice?

There is no evidence to suggest that a leader can’t be focused, decisive and clear about their vision and yet at the same time treat people with a level of compassion and dignity. In fact, this is a common theme in all leadership books and training. And yet the realities of business suggest otherwise. I was recently working with a team and our first exercise was to acknowledge a characteristic you most admire about your other team members. When we were finished everyone was smiling and seemingly refreshed. I asked, “what just happened”. And the response, “it feels good to say and hear positive things about each other and ourselves. That’s something we never do.” The tenor of our meeting changed from that point. People were engaged, more open and ready to tackle a tough task. In fact, they demanded that this be incorporated into their team culture moving forward.

Kindness doesn’t have to be soft and wimp-like. There is a place for kindness and I’d like to offer up three ways it can be incorporated into you leadership style.

Be attentive: 

We are all moving at lightening fast speed. Action and results are the prize. However, people will respond when they feel seen and heard. To do this is very simple, as a leader put your focus on the person with whom you are speaking. That means, putting down your smart phone, moving away from your computer and making eye contact. Listen to what they have to say. To reinforce that you are truly listening, replay back what you are hearing.

Be supportive:

From my very informal poll of senior folks, the number one thing they want from their boss is support. When people feel supported they are able to focus on doing their best work and creating a great environment for their folks. Let your folks know that you believe in them and trust their judgment. This can also be done by offering to lend assistance (and mean it) especially during high-pressure situations. Just the thought of knowing you have their back will give them the inner strength to keep going and persevere through the tough times.

Be appreciative: 

People want to feel recognized and their contributions valued. While this can be done with formal corporate-wide initiatives, it is very potent when done on a personal level delivered with heart and enthusiasm. This is more than saying “thank-you”. When you acknowledge a personal trait such as calmness, resourcefulness, creativity, people now have access to that trait and know it’s valued. In fact the shorter it is the more it will be heard and felt. “Julia, I appreciate your ability to tackle the tough problems”.

Here’s your challenge. Practice one of these for one week. What’s the impact on those around you and yourself? I’m curious to hear how it goes.