How To Develop A Kind Leadership Attitude

June 27, 2022
Marcia De Wachter

Leadership reflection

Reading the article “The Future of Leadership is Kindness” by Carina Parisella, I reflected and recognized that time and time again we observe politicians expressing themselves in public - on TV or on social media - very negatively on the thoughts and proposals of their political opponents, which is the opposite of ‘leadership is kindness’. It seems they are convinced that personal character, assertiveness, toughness, and vision can only be shown by spraying doses of toxicity over the ‘enemy’, labeling him or her de facto as inferior or even incompetent, and taking up the posture of a hero oneself.

A similar attitude of toughness can be seen in some of the boardrooms where it seems that hard decisions can only be taken and complexity only handled in an atmosphere of strict hierarchy, where the highest in rank feels the need to impose his or her views by shouting or even humiliating subordinates in front of his/her peers.

The effect of humiliation in leadership

What comes to mind then is: how are these politicians going to make coalitions with the other political parties when it comes to new government formation rounds? How will they deal with the distrust and hostile feelings they have built up over the years by sowing harsh statements about the other politicians? They will never forget.

As the tone is set at the top, how are these autocratic businessmen going to deal with the feelings of detachment, dislike, and antipathy they have created within their teams. To what extent do they contribute to and propagate a toxic attitude throughout the company because people will imitate that behavior?

Two leadership quotes that help me

If you're heading into a board room or client encounter, I want to share two thoughts that keep me in a mindset of empathy and interest. One is from Timothy Flaherty, author of Coaching - Evoking Excellence in Others: "People are always vulnerable and already in the middle of their lives." We already and always have a relationship with everyone and anything we encounter, whether we are aware of it or not.

The other is from Peter Frost, author of Toxic Emotions at Work: "There is always pain in the room." People bring their pain to work, being it from life-changing circumstances such as illness, or from smaller situations such as a concern over the actions of a teenage son or daughter. 

These two thoughts ensure that I begin every encounter with a sincere interest in and sensitivity to the world of others.

Leading with empathy

It’s time to shift from a “me culture” to an “us culture”.

Leading with empathy is not only about feeling for others but also about understanding what they feel. It is about understanding their point of view and sharing it, asking them questions and listening carefully to the answer; it is about putting yourself in their shoes, seeing things from their perspective, imagining how they would react in certain situations. Empathy can be learned through experience and training but it can also be developed through self-reflection and practice.

A game I used to play with my students was to blindfold two of them and let them - each separately - search for a hidden object in the room, the first one ‘encouraged’ with negative indications by the peer students such as: “wrong way!”,  “not OK”, “you are losing track” etc., the second one led by positive encouragement of the team such as: “good!”, “on the right track”, “you are doing fine”, and “you are on fire!”. It is a no-brainer that the second student was always twice as fast as the first one to find the object.

Likewise, the yearly Gallup surveys tell us that receiving a compliment, words of recognition, and praise, help individuals feel more fulfilled, boost their self-esteem, improve their self-assessments, and trigger positive emotions. In short, feelings of happiness and therefore positive motivation blossom under kindness.

Recognizing and encouraging every step in the right direction, avoiding criticism if a mistake has been made; being more empathetic, and compassionate, giving systematic positive feedback, and avoiding negative personal remarks in public should be basic attitudes in all contemporary leadership.

Even more so, do not wait until New Year or until your collaborator leaves the company to give a bush of flowers. Instead, offer a flower every day: “One compliment a day takes the frustration away”. “Praise loudly, blame softly” (Marcia’s slogans).

To grow towards a more Fair and kind Leadership Process (FLP), each leader can practice the following three attitudes:

1. Reduce your psychological footprint

Reduce your psychological footprint by allowing all opinions around the table to be expressed and discussed, also the ones you do not like, with pros and cons. Designate an ‘advocate-of-the-devil” to tackle your views.

2. Listen deeply

Listen deeply, not just cosmetically, where it looks as if you are listening but are kind of somewhere else; focus more on the other than on your own thoughts.

3. Pull more, push less

Pull more, push less: use amply the Socratic questioning approach; ask deep questions as to the why, the how and the what of collaborators’ reasoning. What do they answer, what do they feel, and how do they behave? And last but not least: Speak last, not first.

"Praise loudly, blame softly."

There is a lot of competition within workplaces, and the temptation to go out on top may lead you to use tough leadership tactics. However, if you are seen as a leader who makes decisions based on kindness and fairness, your people will trust you and follow your example.

Get in the driver seat of your own life