The power of kind leadership

"It is kind to be able to bear conflict, in oneself and others; It is kind, to oneself and others, to forego magic and sentimentality for reality; It is kind to see individuals as they are, rather than how we might want them to be; It is kind to care for people just as we find them." (Adam Phillips, On Kindness)

Not long ago, someone asked me how kindness fits into leadership. Specifically, was it possible to get the best from employees just by being kind? Can kindness deliver? For me, one way to look at this question is looking at the Dalai Lama, who has a single leadership policy: Kindness. Yet there is no doubt that His kindness vibrates with power. People respond. Our motivation to live with more aliveness, passion, and commitment goes up a notch for most if us when we listen to Him. Have you ever heard the Dalai Lama's chuckle? Of course we respond! Yes, kindness is definitively a transformative force. It is the essence of leadership. 

Interestingly, our language knows this. Etymologically, kind as a word connotes nature, of nature, of our nature, kin. It also indicates natural order, an innate character, condition. In Germanic languages, the word kind means child. So kindness has been part of human evolution since we first recognized the value of kin. Kindness transformed solitary living into cooperative community, a transformation that aided the chances of species survival. Life is because kindness is. And what are we or our endeavors but parts of that life?

Studies and research all agree that a deep sense of wellbeing, autonomy, mastery and meaning at work is far more important for employees than material reward or threat.  "[L]eader kindness and generosity are strong predictors of team and organizational effectiveness," writes Harvard Business Review, summarizing Adam Grant's work Give and Take. "Leaders are key to kindness in the workplace," wrote the Chicago Tribune last year. 

Try an opposite approach: When kindness is withheld, in ourselves or in others, we suffer. No one has ever met our expectations better just because we deleted kindness. Right? So why are leaders not always kind? KIndness demands a lot of trust. It endures an unfortunate disconnect likely tracing to Victorian days that confuses kindness with softness. We fear that kindness slows down "serious" decision making and that people will take advantage of us. Kindness, given or received, can feel embarrassing. And, most importantly: We don't know how to be kind to ourselves. 

So just consider the possibility of kindness. Consider the possibility that when we put kindness first we always get results. What would such power look like? For me, I start with kindness to myself. It is hard, but it has to come first. Accepting myself for all that I am and am not, exploring my own beliefs and actions without judgment, as objectively as I can - with friendly awareness. Because from that kind, compassionate space, a wider space opens for inquiry. I can care without judgment and ask questions anchored in this caring. For myself. For others. For those I work with. I can offer empathy, support, encouragement. A situation may be broken, but the people involved are always, always, always whole. I know this within this open space of kindness.

credit: | Annie Spratt

credit: | Annie Spratt

We never know the whole story. We can be curious and find out. We can do so with great clarity. We can listen. We can embrace multiple perspectives. We can ask ourselves, how might others perceive us? How might our employees perceive us. Kindness is truth and unwavering presence. It's caring. It's a skill that starts with oneself. Easy? No. But one single breath taken with awareness is a powerful start.  

Consider also this: We may dismiss kindness, but kindness never dismisses us. Kindness is nature and is who we are, strong, resilient. Kindness sooner or later will be the map we have to follow, so we might as well follow it now. It is the only map leading to sustainable success. How freeing that is! 

And here is Kurt Vonnegut: “Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies - God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”  From: God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater)

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