One of the things that surprises me is how often I see and hear about people who think that kindness and leadership can’t go together because “kindness = weakness” and “leadership = strength”…and that if leaders are kind, then they’ll be perceived as weak!
This rests on a very old view of what “strength” is and what leaders do. In old systems of leadership “might is right” and leaders are perceived to be “strong” because they control what others do. At work, in many “command and control” cultures, people work in environments where they feel that they need to do “as they are told” or fear unkind outcomes like being ridiculed, demoted or fired.
If this is your view of how strength and leadership goes together, I’m going to ask you to reframe. Because true strength as a leader is in being able to control YOURSELF…your unkind, judgmental thoughts that arise out of hard-wired negativity bias…your unkind words that denigrate and demean others, your unkind actions and reactions that arise out of your inability to control your temper and things that trigger you, and that prevent you from putting others first.
Self-control takes much more strength than controlling others. And that’s why Kind Leadership is the strongest kind of leadership! And why it takes some habit-forming practice!
Here are ways that you can strengthen your practice of controlling yourself when you are wearing your Leader Hat:
Think Kindly Practice: When you read an email subject line, write down the first thoughts that come into your mind. When you find that they are unkind, judgmental or assumptions (things you think but don't know for a fact), force yourself to think of at least three alternate explanations that are positive and kind. Example: It's Monday, and a team member emails that they will be llate for work. When you find yourself thinking "They're always late on Monday. Probably stayed up too late...they are lazy and don't care..." write out three alternatives: Their child was sick in the night, and they were up caring for them...Their partners car wouldn't start, so they drove them to work....Their phone didn't charge and their alarm didn't go off... Don't respond to the email or chat with the person until you've had time to control your unkind thinking.
Speak Kindly Practice: When you are upset, do you shout or speak in a sarcastic or unkind tone of voice? If you do, practice controlling yourself by writing a list of the things that "trigger" your temper. Example: I'm triggered when I think people are making excuses...when I'm worried things will reflect badly on me...when things go wrong and my boss is there....We all have them! Then keep that list with you. When one of the triggers happens, let the person know that you need a time out to control your temper and walk away. Practice what you are going to say to the person and make sure your words and tone of voice are reasonable.
Act Kindly Practice: When you are upset and frustrated do you stomp around, give employees the cold shoulder or show lack of patience? If you do, practice controlling your angry, unkind response by planning in advance some better, kinder ways to respond. Like "going to see" the actual situation, or asking open ended questions and then listening. Use your trigger list to look out for situations in which you are likely to need to practice self-control. Carry the plan with you on a piece of paper for easy reference if needed!
So often, leaders tell others what to do and how to do it, and get frustrated when people don't act as the leader thinks they should, but they don't put time and effort and practice into controlling m their own thoughts and behaviors.
Having the self-control to act, speak and think kindly and model that to others takes the utmost of strength.
That's why Kind Leaders are the strongest kind of leaders.
We'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Please leave a comment and let us know how you think we can reframe what "strength in leadership" means.