by Justin Standfield
There are so many characteristics and hallmarks of leadership that you’ll hear discussed within speeches, in academic textbooks and on training courses. It seems to me that amongst all the qualities that are valued in management and leadership theories, it’s rare for the importance of kindness to be given centre stage.
Why is this? Maybe it’s deemed to be too ‘soft’ or too ‘touchy-feely’. Perhaps people think that kindness has no direct impact on the bottom line of an organisation? In fact, quite the opposite is true – kindness affects all aspects of business to some extent and research has proven that it can lead to more focused, resilient and productive employees. In addition, most employees who perceive that they’re treated with kindness are more likely to work hard and produce great results.
The concept of kindness features within several of the leadership approaches that we include on our learning programmes for managers. It’s never placed front and centre as the only way to lead people – simply because ‘being kind’ wouldn’t be an effective method to employ in all situations – however it is a key component of some sound leadership models.
Within the work of James Kouzes and Barry Posner, one of their Five Fundamental Practices of Exemplary Leaders is ‘Encouraging the heart’. Backed up by their extensive research, Kouzes and Posner say that the best leaders take time to carry out genuine acts of caring with their team members; feedback from individuals on the receiving end of this perceive that this lifts their spirits and nudges them forward. An authentic, simple way to ‘encourage the heart’ is to recognise people’s contributions at work, which can be done one-to-one or in a group setting. Feedback from managers that take part in our leadership programmes tells us that this approach is definitely effective, although some people struggle with the title ‘encouraging the heart’ which at first glance seems to be all about the love (“No love please, we’re British!”).
At Incendo, we believe that it’s a key part of any leader’s job to show appreciation for good work. This isn’t just about recognition for that individual – it’s also useful in contributing to the creation of a culture of celebrating values and achievements.
Some of our leadership development programmes include the work of Daniel Goleman, who developed a set of six leadership styles associated with his Emotional Intelligence (EI) model. One of the styles – known as the Affiliative style – puts people before the work that needs to be done, aiming to build loyalty and togetherness as a priority; this style has empathy at its core and demonstrates care for the whole person (not just the task or the person’s usefulness in their job). Deliberate use of the Affiliative style is particularly effective in instances such as:
- when an employee needs some direct assistance through kindness, e.g. counselling and emotional support;
- the need for harmonious relationships between diverse or conflicting groups;
- when used as part of a repertoire of styles, e.g. coaching, visionary, participative etc.
- for recovering trust and rebuilding loyalty within a team.
According to Goleman, the Affiliative leadership style often works best when used in combination with another style, as its emphasis on praise can fail to address poor performance when used solely on its own. When we over-use the Affiliative style and believe we’re being kind to overlook a staff member’s performance issues, we’re often treating them unfairly by not giving them a clear opportunity to raise their game. In the medium to long term, this is actually anything but ‘kind’.
As a final thought – the person we frequently need to be more kind to is ourselves. We know from research that small changes every day (not just on World Kindness Day) can make the largest cumulative difference. Whether this means making time to get back to the yoga class you used to enjoy but got too busy for, spending more time with those you love or consciously stepping away from social media when it’s having a negative impact – these are the type of things that could be prioritised more highly on our to do lists.
By being kind to ourselves first, we’re more likely to be able to pass that kindness on to those around us, which brings to mind the well-known airline safety message about putting on your oxygen mask before helping other people with theirs. Wouldn’t the world be a much better place with a little more kindness in it?