In this blog post, I'm going to dispel one of the biggest myths about Kind Leadership: that it's weak leadership and that leaders who lead with kindness are weak leaders.
One of the most common myths that I hear about Kind Leadership is that it's 'weak' leadership. And leaders worry that if they are characterized as kind, people will think that they can't (or won't) make difficult decisions and that people will try to take advantage of them, or walk all over them.
Those misconception are just blatantly wrong. And they stem, partially, from a misunderstanding of what kindness and Kind Leadership is all about.
In the graphic above, you'll see the definition of kindness that I created for my book, The Kind Leader. In it, you'll see that kindness is the action (or set of actions) taken with the purpose of generating a positive effect and/or outcome for someone else.
The key point here: For someone else.
Over the past year, there have been a record number of incidents of violence in the United States: a mass shooting at a mall in Allen, Texas, a car that ran into and killed migrants in Brownsville, Texas, people being shot and killed while delivering food, to name a few.
As my husband and I watched coverage of these incidents on TV, we did what I’m sure many people did. We tried to figure out the “why” of something that seems so unfathomable.
As we talked, something my husband said really resonated. He said that underneath all the other factors, he thinks that as an experiment, the United States has always pushed the limits of how far individuality and focus on self and “my needs” can go. And he thinks this is one of the results.
And I guess I have to agree. Because in my work with organizations and leaders, I’ve found that too much focus on self leads to unhappiness and that focusing on others, and helping to create positive outcomes for them - kindness - is what brings joy and happiness to all.
But focusing outside of yourself, on what would create a positive effect and outcome for others, is difficult for people. Especially if you are a leader in an elevated position of power.
Focusing on the needs of others, and actually taking the actions that will balance meeting those needs and making sometimes difficult business decisions takes...well...strength:
The capacity for exertion or endurance
Power to resist force
Power of resisting attack
Legal, logical or moral force (as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary online)
And, doing it according to your personal and organizational values, takes a huge amount of strength!
In fact, how often have you, or someone else you know in a leadership role, said, after losing your temper, reacting in an unkind way (yelling, berating or even firing someone in anger), said to yourself (or if you're brave enough, to others): "I shouldn't have done that. It was a moment of weakness...I didn't have enough sleep, I was 'hangry'...or I was stressed to the breaking point..."
Let's face it. Unkindness, unkind acts, and unkind leadership usually stems from weakness, and/or occurs in moments of weakness:
Deficient in physical vigor
Not able to resist external force
Unable to fend off attack
Can't withstand temptation or persuasion (as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary online)
How many times have you read about organizations (or been working in one of them) that have a fabulous set of values on the wall, and then the leaders act in ways entirely different because they are afraid that if they stick to those values (honesty, integrity, respect for people, etc.), that the decisions they make won't be accepted and they will be labeled "weak". How ironic, when the definition of weakness is "can't withstand temptation or persuasion..."
As stated above, resisting external force...capacity for endurance and legal, logical or moral force are all attributes of strength. And exactly why Kind Leaders are strong leaders.
Kind Leaders have the strength to:
Remain true to their values even when confronted with difficult economic or other times.
Consider the needs of others and work to find creative solutions to meet those needs, no matter how much perseverance and endurance it takes!
Put away their devices and give others their full, undivided attention.
Practice Thinking, Speaking, Acting and Reacting kindly when confronted by unkind people and in unkind situations.
Work to understand their own weaknesses and triggers (tired, hungry, situations that cause stress) and manage them.
Have honest, needed conversations with team members and other leaders in ways that are constructive (thanks Mark Graban for our great conversations around this word) and that lead to a positive effect and outcome for all.
Stand up and speak out for people who are not being treated kindly.
Go against the old, outdated myth that kindness is weakness.
Kindness takes strength to practice on an ongoing basis. Leadership takes strength to practice on an ongoing basis. Practiced together, they can change organizations, cultures, communities and countries for the better.
Here are five ways that you can start practicing Kind Leadership today:
Recognize unkindness is happening…and call it out! Don't be silent. Standing up for your values is what strong leadership is all about.
Call for a "Time Out" when you hear and see unkindness. State the facts of what you see happening and explain how it is making you feel. It takes a huge amount of strength not to blame or belittle others!
Speak up for others less privileged than yourself! Kind Leaders have the strength to stand up for others, especially when they are in minority and/or marginalized communities.
Walk Away! You don’t have to “take it”! When you feel that you aren't able to respond in a kind way, walk away until you are calmer. Holding your temper when you are emotional takes a huge amount of strength! Make a time to deal with the issue when you are calmer!
Write a letter of complaint, call HR, sign a petition, raise a flag, take a stand, call and offer support. It's easy (weak) to let incidents pass by, at work, in the community and the country. It takes strength to consistently stand up for what you believe in.
Caring for others and working to create positive effects and outcomes for them isn't weakness. It's strength.
Kind Leaders make difficult decisions all the time. They have constructive conversations all the time. They "get things done" and get results all while helping people learn and grow in safe, supportive and kind cultures all at the same time.
And if that isn't strength, I don't know what is!
We'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please leave them in the comments!