World Kindness has been celebrated globally on 13th November for the past 32 years. Introduced by the non-profit organization, World Kindness Movement, the vision is to inspire and encourage people to show greater kindness in the hope of creating a fairer, better world.
In recent years, I have seen a plethora of articles from HBR and Entrepreneur.com, amongst other publications, extolling the value of kindness in leadership. Although, the evidence is growing about the positives of kindness as a key leadership quality, the practicalities of being kind in the workplace pose some challenging questions for leaders to grapple with:
Will being kind make me seem too nice to be a leader?
Will people respect me if I am kind?
Will I be thought of as a walkover if I am kind?
Are these some of the questions you have asked yourself? These are questions that women leaders frequently ask themselves. The general perception is that kindness is a so-called ‘soft’ skill, and the implication is that it makes leaders appear less focused on winning or takes away from the image of an effective leader being assertive or authoritative. And for women leaders, these perceptions get magnified.
In my career I have worked with some exceptional leaders, both male and female, who have led with kindness to transform their organizational cultures. And these leaders can be at any level in the organization. Take for example the leaders of the PRIDE Employee Resource Group in an organization. They put out a call to all allies. People were invited to film short videos saying “I am [name], and I am an LGBT ally.” The leadership of PRIDE taped their own videos as did their executive sponsors. The response to their request was overwhelming. Two thousand videos were sent in from all around the country. They were put on the internal website, and the experience of watching colleagues faces come up, saying that they supported their LGBT colleagues was both moving and transformative and resulted in greater understanding.
Personal story telling is a great way to cultivate kindness!
Sodexo’s former CEO, Michel Landel, a White, French male, was a leader who embodied kindness and he led with kindness to transform his organization to be more inclusive.
Leading with Kindness – In Practice
What did Michel do? He always acknowledged people and their contributions and inquired after their wellbeing, regardless of who they were or their level in the organization. I recall going on site visits with him and before he met the management teams or the clients, he would go to the kitchen and shake hands with the servers, the janitors and cashiers and inquire after their families. Michel was a consummate learner and made himself vulnerable – He would often say, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” As CEO he positioned me and the DEI function for success by having it report to him – signalling the criticality of DEI to the organization. He personally sponsored women and other underrepresented leaders, many of whom went on to lead large business portfolios. Michel treated DEI as he would any other business priority, making it a strategic pillar for business growth. Every business review included a DEI update. And like any other business priority, he supported measuring progress and holding teams accountable and he de-coupled the DEI incentive from the financial performance of the company signalling that we were on the DEI journey for the long haul. And lastly, he didn’t hesitate to take bold stands. On one occasion, a client asked that Sodexo not “promote” its LGBTQ initiatives on its website and in other communications. Without a minute’s hesitation Michel said, “We can do without clients who don’t respect our values.” He believed in a purpose-driven organization and in treating diversity as a value that creates a strong brand promise and business outcomes. What key traits did Michel exhibit? Empathy… connectivity… respect… courage to be vulnerable. Each of these traits are included in the 10 kindness principles. Here are all the 10 principles…
Leading with Kindness – The Principles
Being in tune with and considerate of the needs of those around you.
Understanding the importance of putting others before yourself. Being generous with your time.
Consistently being kind to others, not just when it is convenient.
Being courageous to demonstrate kind behaviours in all circumstances.
Fostering a sense of inclusion and belonging. Letting others know they are understood and valued.
Valuing the needs and interests of others. Encouraging the growth and wellbeing of those around you.
Mindfulness/ Self Awareness
Having an awareness and understanding of how one’s actions and decisions impact others.
Sharing information transparently and being sincere and honest in all communications.
Respecting the dignity, ideas and opinions of others. Valuing others at a fundamental level, while accommodating their personal needs.
Engaging others without prejudice and judgement.
The principles bring a level of objectivity to what can often feel like a nebulous and arbitrary concept. When I talk about inclusive leadership, I often talk about the 3 C's:
The kindness principles are broad enough to align synergistically with the 3 C's of Inclusive Leadership:
Leading with Kindness – Integral to Inclusive Leadership
The alignment of the kindness principles to the 3 C’s of inclusive leadership demonstrate the impact of kind behaviors in creating an inclusive culture. While the connections between the kindness principles and the 3C’s of inclusive leadership are noteworthy, I was extremely interested to learn of the research demonstrating the clear impact that kind leadership has in organizations.
Leading with Kindness – The Research
Research conducted by Hall and Partners and Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, revealed the impact of kind leadership on employees. The results clearly showed that kind leadership results in enhanced engagement, better quality work and impacts the bottom line of the company.
70% intend to stay at their organization for at least 12 months.
54% said they were highly motivated in their role.
52% said their company is doing financially well.
32% intend to stay at their organization for at least 12 months.
17% said they were highly motivated in their role.
28% said their company is doing financially well.
For too long, kindness in leadership has been misunderstood and undervalued. World events point to the desperate need for greater kindness in leadership and in interpersonal interactions. Kindness is not about being nice and saying ‘yes’. Kindness is rather a commitment to being authentic and transparent. It’s the willingness to be vulnerable, which takes courage and fortitude. It’s a generosity of spirit that enables inclusive leaders to be empathetic, to listen and to empower team members.
We all know that our best work, our most creative ideas and solutions come when we feel secure and able to bring our whole selves to work. And so it is with kindness when we build an inclusive culture, engaged employees positively impact performance, productivity and ultimately profits.
So I encourage each of you to be kind - to be inclusive leaders - not just in your communities and your homes but also in your places of work. Kindness has the power to effect positive change in our organizations, communities and societies.
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