“Kindness matters” is no longer a slogan reserved for kindergarten classrooms. While kindness is regarded as a basic human virtue, there is a long standing belief that the best way to lead is with an iron fist, gaining respect by instilling fear to establish authority. However, more and more studies are revealing the power of kindness in the workplace.
In order to fully understand the link between kindness and workplace success, it is important to first recognize that an effective leader is one who looks beyond seeking absolute authoritative power. This is one of the greatest distinctions between an authoritative figure and true leader. Authority is about power while leadership is about influence. An effective leader strives to lead and influence with their words and actions. Therefore, while kindness is often misconstrued as a weakness, it is imperative that we, as leaders, understand its value as a strength that can be used to create a supportive and motivating environment essential to any workplace.
Kindness builds trust.
Trust is the foundation of any relationship, including those in the workplace. Trust provides an element of security and instills confidence, planting the seeds for a relationship to thrive. With that being said, when it comes to being a leader, establishing that element of trust is critical.
Results from a study completed by a team of researchers from Harvard, Princeton and Lawrence University highlight the secret to doing just that. The study revealed that leaders who make an effort to express their warmth before projecting their authority are more effective than those who approach a team by asserting dominance first. Why? Coming across as warm and kind helps to establish personal connections over hierarchy. In doing so, leaders pave the path for trust and connection to grow.
Kindness encourages growth.
It is essential to continue to foster an environment in which kindness is used as a means of support. How many times have we played it safe out of fear of bad results? Hostile environments create the potential to generate that fear of failure, often resulting in complacency. While fear may lead to rules being strictly followed and deadlines being met, there is also a window for opportunity being closed. If we want to spark growth and innovation, we need to give our teams and ourselves permission to fail. To take risks. To learn from our mistakes. Therefore, being open, communicative and kind will help to foster growth for us, our employees and the company as a whole.
While it is important to celebrate our own successes, both big and small, it is just as imperative to take time to validate employees and celebrate their progress and success. In doing so, we are laying a foundation that allows for change and improvement to flourish. A leader who strives for continued growth is more likely to find continued success if they have others growing along with them.
Kindness increases influence.
What good is a leader if they do not have the influence over others? We depend on our scope of influence to inspire change and drive our mission. UC Berkeley psychologist Dr. Dacher Keltner asserts that combining compassion with power increases the influence one has over others. He argues that the ability to influence is increased by acts of kindness and expressions of appreciation. As a leader, helping others navigate through times of stress and tensions is just as important as reaching concrete milestones in the business.
Kindness drives success.
Success and strong leadership go hand in hand, so it is no wonder that kindness can be linked to success as well. The book Leading with Kindness: How Good People Consistently Get Superior Results by William Baker and Michael O’Malley further dives into the multifaceted benefits of being a kind leader, including inspiring motivation and growth. To then combine this motivation with the acknowledgement and celebration of progress will not only further encourage growth and improvement, but will help spread inspiration and happiness throughout the workplace.
That inspiration and satisfaction will go a long way, according to a study conducted at the University of Warwick. Researchers found a correlation between happiness and productivity, with the subjects working harder by a near 12% increase in productivity when they were happier. This study makes it clear that a little bit of kindness can go a long way.
The bottom line.
True leaders don’t become leaders by accident. We have found ourselves in positions of influence not because of our autocratic tendencies, but because of our desire to do better and be better. To empower others. To spark inspiration and change. In order to do this, we need to be intentional with our words and actions. We need to think about the consequences of our behaviors. We need to lead by example. By leading with kindness we are inviting others to do the same.
Mi-Ai Parrish, CEO of MAP Strategies Group, argues that an increase in kindness will inherently trigger positive results. In our Lessons in Leadership video series, Parrish explains how “at the beginning and end of any day, if you treat people the way you want to be treated, you will find that there are ripples of goodness that come from that.”
As leaders, it is imperative we view kindness as a path to goodness, not weakness, remembering that a kind leader is a strong leader. It is time to stop pounding the iron fist and replace it with a handshake or a pat on the back. While it takes a title to gain authority, it takes character to be a leader. Rather than seeking to take control, let us not forget we will gain respect and broaden our scope of influence when we implement gestures of kindness and words of compassion, promoting trust, growth, and success along the way.