Kindness is an effective leadership skill

Grace definitely has the personality that is best managed with kindness. She is circling here looking for treats, which to her are a sure sign of kindness.  But what’s even more important is that she can trust the other person to treat her consistently and fairly. Those are important components of a strong, and kind, leadership style.

This past weekend, my husband and I walked about 10 paces behind Grace as we were ending up our Sunday hike. We had gone out with a small group of people in search of mushrooms, now that spring is here and morels might be out there to be found. We watched her as she kept in perfect step with a virtual stranger. She could smell the doggie treats in his pocket, and on a previous outing with this kind gentlemen, had known him to offer up some of his goodies. She circled him on occasion to alert him that she was there and available to receive evidence of his kindness. Her overwhelming nervousness around people trumps her love for food. As much as she wanted that treat, she was cautious in her approach.

I was reminded of how much kindness matters in the workplace last night when I attended the retirement party of my dear friend, Sue. She has worked at the same company, a well-respected New Hampshire employer, for 41 years (I mean, who works that long at one place anymore?!). The event was attended by more than 100 people, many long-time co-workers, some even retired themselves who had come back to celebrate the occasion with her.

Also in attendance were family and friends who were generously invited to be there for Sue. It was particularly appropriate in Sue’s case that friends be included, and not just because she had so many. But because of the way Sue brought people together and mingled them together, not just as her friends, but that many had become friends to each other. Her kindnesses generated such goodwill amongst and between others, a rare and remarkable outcome of being associated with Sue, and something that might have gone unrecognized if her employer had been stingy with the guest list. (The leadership at this organization clearly shows a great deal of kindness, too.)

I was asked to prepare a few words to say about Sue from the perspective of a friend. And as I thought about that assignment, I realized how difficult it was to speak from that vantage, because Sue viewed everyone as a good friend, no matter whether she knew you from her workplace, from her many interests, or were part of her family. Everyone was treated with the same high standard by Sue.

One woman (who knows Sue from outside of work) spoke to me afterwards and said, “You know, hearing what I’ve heard today, it makes me realize that Sue wasn’t just a good friend to me. She’s a good person at work, too!” She followed that to say that it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it became apparent from everyone’s comments, acknowledging that Sue was an exceptionally kind person to everyone she came in contact with. How rare is that?

I’m not talking about the sappy sweet kindness where you get walked all over. Sue can hold her boundaries as effective as the most domineering person in the room, but she doesn’t do it by dominating.

The irony was not lost on me that Grace is also part of Sue’s wide circle of friends. It’s not just that I have enormous trust in Sue to watch Grace when we travel. Grace trusts her, too, and it has nothing to do with treats in her pockets (though she certainly does offer favorite morsels on occasion.) It has more to do with the consistent, fair, and kind approach that Grace knows to expect from her. Grace also knows that Sue will hold her accountable to behave when she needs to.

I think that’s a powerful lesson for us all, especially managers and leaders, in organizations. Treat others with kindness. Do it consistently. Use treats when you need to. Hold people accountable, too.

Thank you, Sue, from all of us who know and love you. We appreciate your kindness.

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10 comments

  1. Leslie Fish says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Robin. It came at an especially appropriate time. My husband has been dealing with some difficult situations at work and I noticed this morning that he was unusually cranky. Your message is a gentle reminder for him to mind how he presents himself to others.

    • Robin says:

      Leslie, it is very difficult to stay steady during a frustrating period, so I can understand how your husband is feeling. But hopefully if he can see the big picture, it will help him deal with the short term period. Good luck — and so nice to see you here!

  2. Love this post, Robin! This combination of kindness and quiet strength is rare, and worth aspiring to. And while these traits may have naturally come to Sue, I do think they can be learned and practiced by anyone who wants to be a better leader, or just a better friend (whether our friends are human or canine). Most of us can’t expect to work at the same company for 41 years, much less to have such a wonderful celebration to mark our time there, BUT, we can all work towards making our current place of work a little bit better than it was when we first got there (and a little bit kinder!).

    • Robin says:

      Laurie, thanks for this thoughtful comment. I agree, it is rare, but so nice to be able to balance the kindness with strength. And yes, it would be better if we worked harder to make things kinder! Love that idea!

  3. Carol Richards says:

    I love all your stories, Robin, but this one really came at a time that I think I needed to hear it. I especially soaked in the part about Sue being kind, but not a pushover. That is a fine line to straddle and I often get rolled over and then later my kindness has a tendency to turn to anger because I let the situation get out of hand.

    Your words make me want to work harder on keeping the balance between kindness and sticking to my beliefs and standards.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Robin says:

      Carol, good for you for recognizing what happens when your kindness turns to anger [out of frustration]. When you see that happening, it’s the first step to changing it and I know you can do that. Thank you so much for sharing this with us all, as I’m sure it’s something that many people experience.

  4. Pepi Noble says:

    Thanks again Robin for another fine example of what makes a good leader. Lately I’ve seen several instances where kindness, compassion and warmth have been traded for reactive behavior and harsh words. It’s left a bitter taste in the organization and hurt many who work so hard. I hope those that aspire to leadership consider that being kind is a character value and practice that every day – treats are good too. Thanks again.

  5. Robin says:

    Great point, Pepi, in that being unkind leaves a large and negative impact on an organization, and one that is nearly impossible to recover from. Definitely important for leaders to remember. Thanks so much for your comment.

  6. Kas says:

    I love your posts — you give such great insight! Kindness is something that has always been in my nature, but lately our class has been having some trouble, and it’s been hard to come by. I’m going to try and be a positive, kinder, more uplifting leader rather than get dragged into the negativity that often surrounds us!

    • Robin says:

      Kas, thanks for stopping by and also your honesty about how tough it is to stay positive when the environment is negative. Good for you to looking for ways to turn the tide. You will be just the role model they need to think differently! Good luck!

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