I was having a conversation with a friend a week or so ago about this topic and it's amazing to hear more and more media outlets talking about it. Kindness and empathy are the strengths of a true leader!
As a kid growing up in middle England in the public boarding school system, I was constantly told to 'toughen up', 'suck it up' and 'stop being so emotional'. So for a long long time, I thought that this was my weakness!
I still vividly remember a time when a few of my friends were being mean to a boy in my boarding house, now while I wasn't that close to the boy that was being bullied, I just couldn't walk past without doing something, I felt physically sick and just had to do something! To cut a long story short, I chose to stand up for the boy and then proceeded to be bullied myself for about 18 months...an 18 months that has shaped my personality to this day!
I used to hate that I get so affected by things like this, but as I've progressed in my career and the teams that I've managed have become larger and more diverse, my kindness & empathy has been my superpower. My ability to pick up on how people are 'really' feeling is what I cherish the most and I'm so pleased that the corporate world is starting to wake up to it.
“We’ve placed over time so much emphasis on notions of assertiveness and strength that we have assumed it means you can’t have those other qualities of kindness and empathy.” – Jacinda Ardern
It makes no sense that we value living a happy, fulfilled and loving life outside of work, but at work some feel the only way to get ahead is to use power and toughness as a tool?
In my experience the more empathetic, compassionate and genuine I am, the more I find I get to know the real people around me and get to a better outcome. I am not aware of any research that demonstrates that being nice, charismatic or likeable means you are more likely to be a push-over or that people won’t respect you. But there is plenty of evidence to show us that people are more likely to leave their jobs because of a lack of support or connection to their people leader. A 2019 US study revealed 57% of employees quit because of their people leader,14% have left multiple jobs because of their people leader and an additional 32% have seriously considered leaving because of their people leader.
Gallup finds year after year that “receiving a compliment, words of recognition and praise can help individuals feel more fulfilled, boost their self-esteem, improve their self-evaluations and trigger positive emotions.” Surely this breeds productivity in teams and must be a good thing?
In the McKinsey book CEO Excellence, which looks at how excellent CEOs align the organisation, it was noted all 67 CEOs featured in the book treated the soft stuff just like the hard stuff. They put equal rigor into how they handled topics like talent, culture and organisation design. They know this is a source of competitive advantage when they get it right.
Modern leadership in the 21st century requires kindness which creates a healthy breeding ground for three very critical ingredients in successful teams: effective communication, psychological safety and growth opportunities.