More and more articles are starting to pop up about why kindness is the leadership skill of the future. We think it is not just the leadership skill of the future, it is the leadership skill of the moment! This article explores five reasons why kindness is something all leaders should strive for.
What is kindness?
Before we start setting out why leaders need kindness, we had first better explain what we mean by kindness. In a recent Forbes article, it is noted that kind leaders exhibit three traits: they are people-centric, they are transparent, and they are purposeful. All of those seem laudable, are they all kindness?
Other authors also point to the people element. It seems kindness and people go hand-in-hand. For professional services firms, whose most valuable asset is their people, bells should be ringing.
Dictionary definitions of kindness speak of generosity, caring, and being considerate. An article in the Harvard Business Review starts there too. Interestingly, this article talks about kindness in the context of coaching. Other articles also write about the importance of kindness in coaching – human-centered coaching, to which we ascribe, has many similarities. Coaching as a leadership style is something we can also relate to and many leaders as well. Professional services firms are starting to understand its value.
Kindness, like coaching, isn’t about taking the easy way. It isn’t about being soft. It is about relationships. It is about being mindful of how we treat others. It is often about being brave. It is sometimes about challenge.
What are the reasons why kindness is a key leadership skill?
(1) Helps leaders remember who they serve.
Generosity is a key characteristic of kindness. Who do leaders need to be generous to? One of the most important things for leaders is to remember who they serve. This sounds pretty obvious, but it actually masks different layers of complexity. The straightforward answer might be “the people who follow me”, “my team”, or “the employees at large”.
However, a leader will also serve its clients, its shareholders (if it has them), its fellow leaders, and probably more besides. Kindness helps leaders not only remember, but serve, all of these stakeholders better. It reminds them that leadership isn’t self-serving, it is outward facing.
The coaches at Client Talk speak about empathy as a soft skill with hard edges. Empathy and kindness have a lot in common. Empathy, true empathy, is more than putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, it is about understanding what is needed. True empathy drives action.
Empathy is a skill that is developed when leaders build kindness as a skill. Empathetic leaders drive better results. Kindness – and empathy – are not about taking the easy way. Often they are about courageously taking a different way.
One of the things that we see as being wrapped up in the definition of kindness is positivity. Kindness in leaders is coupled with a belief that individuals can thrive and can deliver. That their actions can make others/their stakeholders better.
Amongst the professional services firms we work with, are many law firms. Lawyers are characterised as being amongst the most pessimistic of professionals. Indeed, this is often lauded as a good thing – it helps lawyers identify risk and encourages prudence. However, it can drive leaders to micro-manage and resist delegation.
Inherent in kindness is caring. Caring that the people you work alongside, with, and for, succeed. For this to work, it must be coupled with a belief that success is possible.
Yes, there are positives to pessimism, but is it a trait we want all our leaders to have? Is that the best way to help others succeed?
(4) Gets the best from people
We kicked off by speaking about kindness and coaching together. Both share a commonality: they are about getting the best from people. Coaching is not about providing all the answers, any more than kindness is giving things to people on a plate. They are about stretching people, they are about getting people to break boundaries, and they are about developing people.
There are different ways of developing people, just as there are different ways of leading. Some influential leaders are anything but kind (they perhaps spring to mind more readily than the kind ones). However, we would argue that when kindness is treated as a key leadership skill, leaders influence with consent rather than with fear.
Culture is the way things are done in a place. It is why it is oft said that “it starts from the top”. One of the reasons why it is important for leaders to be kind is because it shows others in the firm that it is okay to be kind too. This is important.
A culture where employees embrace consideration for others and caring is a culture that is likely to foster belonging. Many firms are grabbling with diversity, how to attract but then more importantly keep diverse talent – the focus is often on that diverse talent, rather than those around them. Perhaps though, the mirror needs to be held up to those who lead.
How is kindness seen and felt in your organisation? What would happen if this was dialled up from the top?
Can you learn to be kind?
Now, you might be reading this thinking that you are kind and what is missing is permission from within your firm to dial it up. Hopefully, this article gives you some ammunition for that.
You might be reading this thinking that speaking about kindness is a trait rather than a skill and therefore it is either something that is present or absent in the leaders in your firm.
We believe that kindness is a key leadership skill. A key relationship skill. Like empathy, it is a skill that is eminently learnable. It starts with so many things with self-awareness. It is a journey. Is it a journey that you want to embark on?
If you want to find out how to dial up kindness in your firm, why don’t you explore our masterclasses which give a taste of how combining coaching and training gets the best out of people?