My pastor reminded me, in a sermon earlier today, how important it is for all of us to practice kindness, not the niceness that pervades our culture. As he described it, kindness comes from a place of knowing we are loved and has an internal motivation. Niceness is externally motivated and tries to please, receive affirmation, or be seen in a certain way.
Leading with Kindness is actually the name of a research-based book co-authored by William F. Baker and Michael O’Malley that uses scholarly reports, interviews with leaders, and personal observations to document “how good people consistently get superior results” in management by using kindness. This seems to fly in the face of today’s rough and tumble business environment where winning at all costs is held up as the model leadership behavior.
The authors define key attributes of kind leaders as humility, authenticity, gratitude, integrity, humor, and compassion. Just reading or hearing those words in the same sentence or conversation as leadership should send a tingle up and down our spines. If you know anyone who aspires to model these attributes on a daily basis in the workplace they probably stand out from every other leader in the organization.
Kind leaders do three things exceptionally well, according to the research. They set expectations, provide honest assessments and feedback, and promote growth. These behaviors are challenging to practice in most workplaces because the cultures are often populated with persons who are cynical, frequently blame others for their situation, and sometimes openly battle any changes being implemented.
Leading with kindness is an excellent formula to combat this helpless culture. As the kind leader’s key attributes are on display, along with his or her behaviors as introduced earlier, the culture can become more open, resilient, and engaged.
It’s ironic that a research book is needed to make the case for what every human being longs for, to be loved and treated with respect and dignity. Kind leaders who are self-confident, self-controlled, and self-aware are perfect role models for this compassionate, decent, generous, patient, and helpful approach.
Perhaps you are wondering how kindness equates with results, what leaders tend to be judged by in business and in life? Since kindness is all about how you treat others, and we know people crave appreciation and want to be part of something bigger than themselves, it stands to reason that kind leaders can do both. When expectations are clear, performance can improve. If feedback is honest and immediate, behaviors can change and employees know what they are doing well and what needs to be improved. If personal growth is encouraged, employees will be more accountable for their actions.
If you aspire to become a kind leader don’t assume you can simple follow a recipe or check those attributes mentioned earlier off your to-do-list. Leading with kindness is a way of life, a leadership style that takes form and shape through your daily interactions with those you serve. Kindness shows you care and you simply can’t fake it.