Why Kindness Matters for Effective Leadership
I think we can all agree that the world could benefit from more kindness. Sadly, sometimes I have found myself on the receiving end of a distinct lack of kindness. And that doesn't feel good! Luckily, I believe I have been blessed to both receive kindness, and be able to offer kindness to others. It is a choice we make, after all, so be kind! The world and life are precious, so let’s not take it for granted.
Being kind these days may feel like you’re exposing yourself to vulnerability and rejection, and the models of leadership that we see every day on news sites and on the television are rarely beacons of kindness.
Kindness could be the key to rising to the next level of leadership, and it can help you improve engagement within your organization. It can also enhance the relationships your people have with each other and your customers.
What Does Kindness Do?
Being kind is not just the right thing to do. It is probably the most powerful way to influence the culture and overall engagement levels of your entire organization. Why? Kindness actually produces scientifically measurable outcomes and impacts:
- Kindness produces oxytocin, which is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone” in the human body. This helps to lower blood pressure and enhance heart health. It also contributes to increases in self-esteem and optimism. The cool part — all it takes is witnessing kindness in action for this effect to take place. Just imagine the impact it has when you are directly involved in an act of kindness.
- Kindness gives people an energy boost. In a study conducted at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, about half of participants reported feeling increases in energy and strength after helping others. A significant number of subjects also reported feeling less depressed and more calm with enhanced feelings of self worth.
- Harvard Business School performed a survey in 2010 that measured happiness in 136 countries around the world. It found that the most generous people were also the happiest.
- Helping others is great for physical health — people who volunteer their time and energy for good causes experience fewer aches and pains than others. In fact, practicing kindness has a positive effect on health that’s equal to or even greater than that of regular exercise.
- Participating in acts of kindness triggers the production of endorphins, which reduce pain and discomfort.
- Individuals who practice kindness regularly have measurably lower levels of cortisol — a hormone associated with stress — than average members of the population.
Kindness is also highly contagious. As a leader, this is crucial to understand, since the manner in which you operate and treat others has such a great influence on the way your people behave. If you are seen being kind on a regular basis, and your team members are regular recipients of your kindness, they will experience the benefits outlined above. And they will pass kindness on to others, both inside and outside of your organization. Kindness catches on like wildfire and can transform the culture of your organization quickly and quite remarkably.
Kindness Is Not Weakness
Contrary to popular belief, kindness will not undermine your authority or cause your people to view you as weak and wishy-washy. You can be kind and compassionate and still make difficult or even unpopular decisions. And if you think about it, being kind is often more difficult and challenging than being unkind.
It’s easy to lash out and get angry when someone fails to meet your expectations. Immature leaders sometimes fall into the trap of using meanness and a short temper to ensure compliance, but it almost always backfires and leads to sharp declines in engagement. Being kind takes self-awareness, personal confidence and a mindset that ensures you can see goodness in others. It requires leaders to be mindful of their initial instincts and impulses so they can make the kinder choices in all their interactions.
A strong leader sees the big picture and recognizes that being kind fosters confidence and growth in others. It takes guts to be kind, and the rewards are incredible for leaders and their organizations.
How to Enhance Your Kindness as a Leader
Being genuinely kind is not as simple as flipping a mental switch. That’s why kindness is frequently described as a “practice.” You will make mistakes, and sometimes you will revert to old ways of reacting and treating others. The important thing is that you keep trying to be kind. The effort counts, and the more you practice, the easier it will become.
Here are some of the ways in which leaders can build their kindness muscles:
1. Show appreciation — This is a great place to start. When an individual or group accomplishes a goal, tell them how much you appreciate their effort, innovation and ability. A few kind words from you can keep the fire of productivity burning strong.
2. Establish real relationships — Getting to truly know your people and what matters to them is the key to practicing meaningful kindness. The more you can relate to your people as human beings, the more you will be able to empathize with them, which is one of the cornerstones of kindness. Show that you are genuinely interested in them as human beings and they will reflect the same interest and appreciation back to you.
3.Practice forgiveness — Holding grudges and keeping certain employees in the “doghouse” only alienates people and drives down engagement. Giving someone a second chance is a great way to show kindness and give them the confidence required to put forth the best-possible effort.
4.Recognize the struggle — When you notice that a particular employee may be struggling or having difficulties solving a problem, don’t just offer to provide solutions. Instead, let them know that you recognize the challenge they’re facing. Relate to them by sharing something you have struggled with. This is Empathy 101, but it has a tremendous impact on morale. Showing this type of kindness also helps employees understand that you are an ally, and have their best interest at heart.
5. Just be nice — It is really not that hard to smile, say, “good morning,” ask a team member about their weekend or engage in other basic human niceties. But in the demanding world of business, sometimes these basic social graces seem outdated. Don’t believe that you have to skip being nice for the sake of business! Being polite and nice to people, regardless of the realities of your business, is one of the best ways to ensure that you maintain a culture of kindness within your organization.
Are You Leading with Kindness?
Organizations that feature a culture of kindness have more productive and engaged employees than others, and it all starts with leadership.
Do you practice kindness as an essential aspect of your leadership? What are some of the lessons you’ve learned by being kind? What impacts have you seen in your organization that are a direct result of kindness?