Why Being Kind Will Make You a Better Leader
If you’ve been unlucky, you may have experienced leaders who lack empathy or respect for their employees. And it can be infuriating to work for bosses who treat employees harshly, abruptly change priorities, or provide no direction. But when you think about successful leaders, kindness is not among the first qualities that come to mind. The qualities most often associated with successful leaders are such attributes as honesty, ability to delegate, confidence, commitment, creativity, and capacity to inspire—not kindness and compassion.
Yet, kindness and compassion shouldn’t be equated with weakness. In fact, just the opposite may be the case: It may be that leadership without kindness equates to weakness.
As Jon Mertz notes in a guest post on Susan Mazza’s website on leadership, kindness can take effort:
We go out of our way to lend a hand, offer an empathetic ear, or say an encouraging word. Giving comes from a strength inside, along with a strength in backbone. At times, the kindest thing we can do is to deliver an honest message or a firm insight of why someone is not on the right path.
This isn’t touchy-feely poppycock. Numerous studies have found that organizations led by compassionate bosses enjoy greater employee satisfaction and engagement, lower levels of overall stress, and fewer reported sick days. Leaders who exhibit compassion seem to produce loyal, dedicated, and passionate employees.
Furthermore, there are health benefits for those who exhibit kindness. For example, research suggests a strong link between compassion and the activity of the vagus nerve. One of the twelve cranial nerves, the vagus nerve regulates heart rate and controls inflammation levels in the body. One study found that kindness and compassion reduced inflammation in the body, probably due to its effects on the vagus nerve.
Despite the research, not everyone agrees that kindness is the way to go. One Forbes blog post, for example, views leadership by kindness as a “dumb management fad.” In my view, the post doesn’t make an effective case. Claiming that a boss needs to make the tough decisions, stop wasteful discussion, and be in charge doesn’t dispute the value of kindness. Of course someone has to be in charge. That person can still be kind and compassionate even while doing the tough work of being a leader. A leader who has a reputation for kindness and respect actually has an easier time doling out tough decisions and having them accepted.
Aren’t kindness and compassion worthwhile goals for all who are in or aspire to positions of leadership?