A casual Saturday night conversation with a friend, discussing our work lives, led us to question if a kind, considerate and a sensitive leadership style would ultimately lead to success? Or, if it was indeed a sign of weakness in the survival-of-the-fittest world and called for re-evaluating the way we function at work.

I find it hard to imagine why kindness and leadership are not looked at as elements that blend together- rather as being in opposition to each other. I then decided to explore the subject of Kindness as a virtue at the Workplace for the upcoming World Kindness Day on November 13th. The subject becomes increasingly relevant in the new disrupted world, where remote working and managing several hats successfully has come to become the norm. It is a known fact that all of us are struggling, though the intensity of the struggle will differ. Can kindness bring a ray of light into our lives and to those around us?

The World Economic Forum in its Future of Work report, highlights skills such as Leadership, Collaboration and Persuasion to prosper in the next five years. This brings us to the question of how as leaders can we do things differently in the post-pandemic world?

Kindness is one of the most undervalued traits when it comes to the notion of leadership. While being a kind, sensitive and a benevolent leader does not replace the other elements of leadership, it can certainly be the added value that could set you apart and accelerate not only your personal and professional growth, but also growth of others around you.

Kindness is the quality of being considerate and generous and because this attribute has to be backed by action every day, it is often considered a verb and not just a noun. Let us look at the actions of kindness;

  1. Kindness is showing genuine care to the people around you. At the workplace, it translates to caring of the wellbeing and the growth of your team. As Robert Ingersoll puts it “We rise by lifting others.”
  2. Kindness is not being likeable or being nice inauthentically.
  3. Kindness is a reflection of self-awareness, confidence, integrity, having the courage to be vulnerable and a tenacity to recognize shared human experience. It is far easier to be unkind rather than be kind. It requires leaders to be purposeful in the way they conduct themselves and thoughtful of their first reactions, so that they can make kinder decisions and choices.
  4. “Kindness is contagious and cascades across people, taking on new forms along the way”- Jamil Zaki. Zaki postulates that Kindness has a Domino like-effect, even if you are an indirect recipient of an act of kindness. Unleashing kindness at the workplace is like a contagion, which under the right conditions, everybody should look out for and adopt. It becomes a crucial element in creating that ‘WOW’ employee experience at the workplace.
  5. Kindness is certainly not being non-confrontational or unclear or indecisive. Brené Brown’s quote highlights this as “Clear is kind, Unclear is unkind”. It lies in the way you convey your message to the people around you – with both honesty and empathy.

So, how can you as a Leader, bearing in mind the above points, express genuine kindness to manage your team more efficiently? Here are some key pointers;

  • Fostering Real Connections – Get to know your team. The more you can relate to their preferences and overall lives, the more they will trust your actions and intentions behind the decisions you take. Remember to acknowledge them in small ways. Whether it is ‘Great Job’ or a simple ‘Good Morning’ or ‘How was your weekend?’ or ‘ ‘How was the recital?’ expressing genuine interest in their lives, recognizing their struggles and being an ally will help you form real relationships with your team.
  • Appreciate, Encourage and Celebrate the Successes – A few kind timely words of appreciation can set the ball rolling nicely. Encourage your team by respecting their contribution to the new ideas to the team, no matter where the employee sits in the organizational hierarchy. Lastly, celebrate the success of an individual or the group when they accomplish a goal and enunciate the words they need to hear.
  • Provide Honest Feedback and Empathize with the Employees –  As leaders, we sometimes need to tell employees when they are not meeting expectations. Critical conversations are tough, but have a positive effect if handled with kindness – meaning you provide your constructive feedback with the intent of helping the other person grow and learn.  You display a desire to help an employee give their best by supporting them and asking how you can help them during this journey. Show that you care about the fact that the they are humans and not automatons just fulfilling the needs of the organization. Kim Scott’s book Radical Candor talks about how leaders need to care personally and challenge directly to both get the most from and give the most to their employees. This means pointing out mistakes and confronting problems openly and transparently, but doing both of this from a point of respect and helpfulness.
  • Clarity and Taking a Stand: Leaders should set clear expectations and goals as early as possible. When employees aren’t aware of objectives and expectations, they are not set up for success to meet them – which then can lead to a perception of poor performance, stress, anxiety and turmoil – which is being unkind. Don’t shy away from making a bold decision if it concurs with the larger goal.

As a leader, it is pertinent to practice “Intentional Kindness”. The manner in which you operate and treat others has a great influence on the way your people behave. Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School conducted a study that revealed kindness and warmth are the two qualities that make leaders more effective and trustworthy, rather than being tough, strong and brimming with bravado. Kindness creates an energetic culture where individuals can bring their whole authentic selves to work each morning and go back with a sense of accomplishment and positivity at the end of the work day.

Reiterating the above findings, it is vital to understand that kindness will not undermine your authority. You can be thoughtful and compassionate and still make difficult or even unpopular decisions. When a leader uses an authoritarian leadership style to control outcomes it almost always leads to lower engagement levels in the team. So why not try inculcating kindness as a unique ingredient to your success recipe?

Stay Genuine! Stay Kind!