It would not be difficult for me to provide you with countless examples from past coaching discussions where I’ve heard of leaders receiving feedback from senior peers that they ‘need more edge’, to ‘be more ruthless’ and ‘impose themselves more’ on their team.
In general, it feels there is an increasing recognition that authoritarian and emotionally cold approaches to Leadership no longer fit, however there also seemingly remains an unwillingness to let those old beliefs fully die.
On some level it’s understandable. Still we’re surrounded by glorified examples, notably on TV and in media, of the ‘super hero’ Leadership style still holding, and the notion that in order to truly succeed in business, effective Leadership comes with an iron fist.
Here’s a few thoughts on why we should now archive those old notions into fantasy land for good, and focus on the reality of effective Leadership in the modern world. Let’s explore both the personal virtues as well as the positive commercial impact of incorporating genuine care, compassion and kindness into our Leadership armoury, and why Leadership development in this area is fast becoming more than just a nice trait, but a strategic necessity for the future.
Let’s start with the ‘selfish side’ of compassion and kindness. Being kind to others is being kind to yourself. It’s no surprise to any of us that acts of kindness offer us a positive emotional and physiological benefit. Expressions of kindness spark physiological responses in the body, increasing Oxytocin levels, which in turn lead to greater levels of personal ‘happiness’, reduced stress and anxiety, and an improved sense of personal wellbeing. But the impact on others too can be even greater particularly in this period of extreme uncertainty and stress. Never before has there been such a crucial time for us to get alongside our people, protect their wellbeing, and show them that we genuinely care.
There is undoubtedly a level of vulnerability that comes with acts of kindness in Leadership. There is a requirement for us to open the door to discomfort and face challenges we may not want to explore. And very often as leaders that starts with us. Being compassionate is about being relatable and showing humility. Sharing and recognising both your strengths and weaknesses and unapologetically being grounded in both.
But in return that vulnerability encourages trust, and this, as we know, is perhaps the most essential component of any relationship between a Leader and their team. We now more than ever need to cultivate an environment in our organisations where people can offer honest challenge and feedback, be willing to take risks, experiment, feel empowered to make bold decisions and run the risk of making mistakes. It’s impossible to imagine a scenario where this environment can be sustained without trust. Developing trusting relationships takes time and requires a connection with your people on a deeper level. This again starts with compassion, kindness and a genuine willingness to show that you care.
Enhanced Decision Making
Expressing kindness and compassion involves listening more intently, observing more mindfully and acutely tuning into what’s going on, both internally and in your external environment. It encourages you to compose yourself in a different way, and by noticing what emerges from being fully present, in the moment, new insights to a way forward can begin to emerge. From my observations it’s this practice that offers the very best leaders the greatest clarity and assuredness when facing the toughest and most complex decisions.
Kindness in Leadership isn’t about letting poor behaviour go unnoticed because you don’t want to offend, or not giving clear direction because you fear undermining self-worth.
It’s about allowing space for people to feel, listening to understand, recognising and embracing all that emerges, and being responsive to what’s happening around you, in the moment, to help guide the best path forward.
Finally, being compassionate is about being relatable and showing humility. Sharing and recognising both your strengths and weaknesses and unapologetically being grounded in both.
How open are we then, as Leaders and Organisations, to let go of this notion that in some way kindness is tantamount to weakness?
Might it be instead that acts of wise compassion and care offer Leaders a new and deeper level of insight into their organisation that could vastly improve the engagement of their people, and transform the clarity of their decision making?
If this resonates with you, try this:
- Take time this week to really listen to your team and colleagues, not just the words said but also perhaps what isn’t, what else might be going on that could be impacting their behaviour?
- What patterns do you observe in your team’s behaviour that might be negatively contributing to their impact?
- How might you interpret or make sense of what you notice in a deeper and more compassionate way.
- At the end of your week, create some space for yourself to notice and reflect on the impact the stillness of your approach had on the decisions you took.
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