Emily Marsh June 11 2019

There is strength in kindness: why kind leadership matters

Being kind isn't a weakness in leadership. We explore what it means to be a kind leader and why kind leadership is good for your people and your business.

Kindness hasn’t always been high on the list when thinking about leadership. For some, leadership is about maintaining your status, being strong, and having people do what you say. For some, kindness is seen as a weakness, a watering down of decisive decision-making, or just the latest fad in a long line of new fangled leadership hype.

In our fast paced business world where tech rules, we trade in knowledge, and people are likely to have 12 or more jobs during their career lifetime, isn’t it time that leadership did something a little different?

In this new environment, organisations that thrive are those who cultivate a culture of open feedback, mentoring, and empowering people. Being a kind leader is the next step in people-led leadership and is quickly being seen as essential to success.

Already, some leaders ARE managing to build their profit line AND lead with kindness. Some are managing to place their people first AND please their stakeholders year on year. For some, being a kind leader is essential to success.

Here are some tips for bringing kindness into your leadership approach - whilst adding value to your business.

Kind leaders are good leaders

Kind leadership brings in all the different elements of authenticity, transparency, warmth, building trust, and empowering people. So when we talk about kindness, what we really mean is including a little of each of these different subsections of being a good leader in your day to day approach and intent.

Part of being ‘good’ at leadership is understanding and valuing what’s going on with the people you lead. It’s about understanding the personalities you work with and creating a team, culture and a business that is flexible enough and encouraging enough to invite individuals to be themselves at work.

This is so important. The expectation that you have one persona at home and one persona at work has gone. We bring our whole selves to work and life doesn’t stop at the door, we all need to feel safe and comfortable in that space, no matter what the day brings. In that sense, leaders need a certain level of emotional intelligence to understand where people are and what matters to them.

Kind leadership also means good business. Kindness has been proven to have an impact on people’s happiness, and happier people are 12% more productive, according to a study by Warwick University. The study claims that “happier workers use the time they have more effectively, increasing the pace at which they can work without sacrificing quality.”

Professor Oswald from the University of Warwick says, “Companies like Google have invested more in employee support and employee satisfaction has risen as a result. For Google, it rose by 37%...making workers happier really pays off.” Being kind to others will also make us, as leaders, happier as well - so what’s not to like?

We’re not talking about random acts of kindness, but intentional leadership with a clear understanding of how we show up for ourselves and our employees. We’re talking about leadership with good intent and wanting to do the best by our business and our staff. So what does kind leadership mean to you? How do you see it playing out in others and how do you do it yourself?

Kind doesn’t mean weak

Being a kind leader doesn’t mean being a weak leader. Organisations should no longer pigeon hole the bold and assertive “Fiery Red”s into leadership roles or label the “Mellow Yellows” by their softer skills and people focus. The world has moved on. Leaders - good leaders - are very capable of making good and strong business decisions, even tough decisions, with kindness.

Satya Nadella recently showed that he could put principles first while navigating employee unrest. Take Mary Barra, CEO at General Motors, as another example. As we explored in a recent post, Barra is considered one of the most powerful women in the world, having successfully driven GE forward in the last five years. She’s achieved all this by exuding a quiet, humble, and kind leadership style.

Outside of the business world, there are people like Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand prime minister, who exudes warmth, kindness, and compassion, and is steadily becoming one of the most iconic and respected leaders of our time.

I'd bet you can't think of many examples where a leader showing kindness has also made them appear weak?

Kind leaders do 5 things well

Kind leaders set clear expectations.

They tell people what is expected so they can’t hang them out to dry for not meeting the expectations they were never aware of in the first place. Often, this means having a really clear sense of direction and being able to communicate that in a way that works for everyone around them. What goals is the business trying to achieve? What role do you play in reaching those goals?

Kind leaders give honest feedback.

When leaders don’t tell people the truth, under the guise that they don’t want to hurt the individual, they are not being kind. All they are really doing is being kind to themselves, by protecting themselves from a possibly awkward and uncomfortable situation.

But if leaders assume that everybody wants to be the best they can be at their job, then the best way to show kindness is by being honest when someone is not on the right path. To get the best out of people, leaders often need to coach, slightly pull, or mentor people, but they can do this with kindness and sincerity.

Kind leaders encourage growth.

In Western society, we are privileged enough that we’ve fulfilled the basic requirements in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; food, water, warmth, and safety. We are at the point of self-actualisation, and this is what many of us get from work. As leaders, we can be kind by offering people opportunities and encouraging them to achieve their full potential and gain self-worth.

Kind leaders are transparent in their decision-making.

A kind leader will show consideration and openness about decisions they make that impact others. Whether the impact is positive or negative, leaders need to tell the story of how they got there and then hold space for people to process it, understand it, and come back with their opinion. It’s about showing clarity and transparency in decision making, rather than hiding things and letting people’s imaginations run wild.

There is also a responsibility to make those decisions land kindly, especially when it’s a tough decision and one that might impact people in a negative way.

Kind leaders treat people like people.

Kind leaders recognise that people are people, not machines. They smile, they say thank you, they acknowledge people. They celebrate people’s successes, talk to them like adults, and check in to see how they are doing. They show people that you’re all in it together, respect them and trust that they’ll do the right thing.

But what does all this mean for the business? How do we demonstrate the business benefits of leading with kindness?

Kind leaders facilitate a happier, more profitable workforce

Kindness empowers people to lead with positivity, purpose, and an open-mindedness that embraces new ideas. A lot of this comes down to trust. If leaders show kindness, they accelerate trust and in turn create happier, more empowered employees, who will be inspired to deliver better results.

I’ll finish with this quote from Leading with Kindness, a book by William Baker & Michael O’Malley: “In order for companies to improve, the people of the organisation have to become smarter and more resourceful and work together more effectively over time. For this to work, people have to care about their work, the company and one another. This requires the expert orchestration of a kind leader.”

A kind leader is a strong leader. How can you lead with more kindness? And what impact might this have on your people and your results?

Little book for the connected leader 

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