In a world fraught with stress, anxiety and surprising challenges cropping up where we least expect them to, acts of kindness great and small continue to be the palate cleanser we all need. For better or for worse, as the definition of workplace contorts at the will of circumstances out of our control, leaders are being tested in many ways right now. In times like these, kindness isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind when most people consider what it means to be a great leader, but it should be.
There is probably nothing more toxic to an organization than a loathsome boss. You should consider yourself lucky if you haven’t had a run with one or two in your career. The idea that “it” starts from the top couldn’t be more true, and leading with kindness is the “it” all successful leaders should be aiming to exemplify above all else.
A recent study conducted by a global coaching consultancy revealed that 56% of American workers believe that their boss is mildly or highly toxic. Another study by the American Psychological Association found that 75% of Americans say their boss is the “most stressful part of their workday.”
In workplaces where the mistaken idea that high performance is only driven by managerial control, and oversight with autocracy, there is constant turnover, low morale and sluggish productivity. This age of reality stardom and social media celebrity is churning out a cohort of leaders that are calculating, single-minded and competitive to a fault. Meanwhile, their teams are languishing, as is the public they are charged with serving.
In a clip of the swearing-in ceremony for Biden administration appointees, President Joe Biden imparted his thoughts about the obligation and privilege that comes with public servitude. While delivering his remarks, he expressed that he intends to lead with dignity and also that he expects nothing less from each member of his staff. Near the end of his address, he advised those being sworn in that treating others with disrespect would not be tolerated in his administration.
In addressing his staff this way and leading by example, President Biden is establishing a foundation of credibility rooted in basic decency. There are no characteristics more influential in a leader than kindness and strength. Kindness is the conduit of influence. It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas. It also improves employee performance.
Here are a few ways to lead with kindness to foster the most productive workforce:
- Recognize, kindly. Celebrate the successes of others you work with. Time and again employees have said that recognition inspires and motivates them to perform best.
- Support, kindly. We are all struggling in some way whether we readily admit it or not. It is always kind to take the time to look outside of ourselves and offer help to someone else to tackle a project if we can.
- Give feedback, kindly. Leaders have to hold difficult conversations all the time, but these conversations can serve as a platform for building trust, especially if they are handled with kindness.
- Care, kindly. One of the most difficult aspects of leadership is recognizing that people are not machines. You can’t turn them on and off with the flip of a switch. Like you, when the workday is done they are moving on to deal with personal responsibilities, health concerns, and more. Great leaders understand this, and they care.
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Kelly Brown is the Special Assistant to the Director of a public safety agency in Washington, D.C. In her 22 years in government, she has served in senior advisory roles within the executive offices of mayors and city administrators. Her career achievements include drafting the District of Columbia government’s first set of published customer service standards and conceptualizing engagement and culture pivot programs for upward of 40,000 employees. Kelly spends her spare time working on a collection of personal essays that she hopes to have published soon. She is passionate about language and about helping others find and cultivate their distinct voices, too.