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Kind Leadership: It’s the “Kind” of Leadership We All Want

As a kid, my mother was fond of quoting the verse, “Be ye kind, one to another (King James Version no less),” when she saw me and my brothers “mixing it up.” Often (sorry, perhaps at times), the immediate effect of her words was to calm things down. If that didn’t work, then others actions were taken…wooden spoon, “wait ’til your dad gets home,” etc. Kids…

I remember what she said not because I developed a halo and a set of wings as a result. I heard that verse a lot when growing up, if you get my drift. Rather, it’s because she was a kind person. She emulated that verse and wanted us to, as well. So did my dad. Besides, things were better when I and my brothers were “kind” to each other–less bruises, fewer broken lamps, more advances for my weekly allowance ($$), and so on. Being kind was a good thing to do based on principle and pragmatics.

Do you remember “the kindness of others?” Parents, siblings, spouses, children, friends… What were those acts of kindness? How did they make you feel?

What about Leaders? Have you worked with leaders (and co-workers, for that matter) who exhibited kindness? What did they do? What effect did that have on you? On your organization?

It’s not a huge surprise that people are interested in this topic. Some have studied kindness in relation to its personal and organizational effects. Their research is revealing, albeit if sometimes intuitively confirming. For instance, did you know that:

  1. Acts of kindness can lower blood pressure and improve heart health. Even witnessing kindness has the same effect. Kindness is contagious.

  2. Leaders who express kindness by demonstrating fairness increases employee performance, citizenship behavior, and team performance.

  3. Employees are more eager to be led by someone who is kind than someone who leads through fear and intimidation.

  4. Kind and compassionate organizations have more engaged employees and higher retention rates.

  5. Less than half (45%) of employees feel they work for kind leaders.

So, who are Kind Leaders? What does Kind Leadership look like?

According to William Baker and Michael O’Malley, authors of the best selling book, Leading With Kindness, kind leaders demonstrate the following behaviors and attributes: (You will see that these connect to some of my recent blogs.)

  1. Compassion and empathy–recognize the challenges that others are facing and be concerned enough to do something about it.

  2. Integrity–talk the talk and walk the talk.

  3. Gratitude–express gratitude to others, but also have a thankful and accepting attitude when gratitude is offered to you by others.

  4. Authenticity–be honest with yourself and to those with whom you work.

  5. Humility–as stated by others, “Not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

  6. Humor–“Lighten up” and make your workplace a fun/nice place to work.

The authors also believe that kind leadership is not soft leadership. They state,

“The fact is, kindness isn’t always nice. It pushes others to do better; it asks them to try out things that they are uncertain they can accomplish; it requires them to engage in activities that they are not sure they will like.”

Besides Baker and O’Malley’s list, here are a few other attitudes and behaviors you can practice and develop on your path to becoming a kinder leader:

  1. Adopting a humane approach

  2. Expressing fairness and equity

  3. Accommodating personal issues

  4. Treating others with respect

  5. Communicating with a personal touch

  6. Sharing information in a transparent way

  7. Listening intently and valuing the views of others

  8. Counselling and mentoring

  9. Being inclusive as a leader

Have you ever seen “Kindness” on a list of leadership competencies? If you have, you are among a few, no doubt. Make it part of your leadership competency list. Kindness can be developed. However, like servant leadership it requires a kindness “mindset.” It’s who you are , not just what you do.

Finally, this quote:

“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” –Henry James

Be ye kind, one to another,

Jim Dittmar

professional pic single 4.25.17

James Dittmar is the Founder, President, and CEO of the 3Rivers Leadership Institute, through which he creates and delivers training and development that is transformational. Prior to this Jim founded the award-winning Geneva College M.S. in Organizational Leadership Program and served as Chair of the Department of Leadership Studies and Director of the M.S. in Organizational Leadership Program until 2015. Should you have any questions, comments or feedback, please contact him at

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