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Cultivating Skills That Will Make You a Kind and Effective Leader

Leadership roles give us the chance to create the world we envision.

Key points

  • Harnessing human interactions and leading with kindness can create successful family or workplace experiences.
  • Kindness has the positive effect of connecting people, it motivates the giver and the receiver.
  • Being kind, should not be mistaken for being 'soft', finding a balance between having a strong backbone and a soft approach is important.

By Eva Ritvo, MD and Lina Haji, PsyD

We all have times in our lives when we must lead at work, at home, or in our community. As we unwind from the pandemic, new opportunities will arise, and it is wise to be prepared.

Leadership roles give us the chance to create the world we envision. Leading by example is one of the most powerful tools. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

So much of our communication is non-verbal. Messages are transmitted more rapidly via our mirror neurons, which are the part of the brain that fires in response to what we see. As the saying goes, “Smile, and the whole world smiles with you.” When it comes to leadership, your example is of utmost importance.

Kindness is a powerful way of connecting with others, as it affects the giver and the receiver. Both parties can receive benefits. There are names for this well-known phenomenon: “Helpers’ High” and “Givers Gain.”

When I think of leadership, I like to think about harnessing the power in these types of interactions. Lead with kindness and create a win-win relationship for your family or organization. That’s not to say that leaders should be soft; in fact, they shouldn’t. My esteemed colleague and thought leader in the Alzheimer’s field, Dr. David Loewenstein, describes himself as “a marshmallow on the outside with a backbone of steel.”

Image by Daniela Carvalho Dani from Pixabay
Source: Image by Daniela Carvalho Dani from Pixabay

Here are some qualities to reflect upon as you cultivate your leadership skills:

  • Compassion: It takes time to get to know people and understand their needs and wants. In a large organization, it is impossible to get to know everyone. Still, you can establish a hierarchy where direct supervisors have time to get to know their reports and provide you with feedback. It is vital to see and respect the differences in family members, not just the similarities. Each family member may struggle with different issues, and you must be sensitive to each.

  • Care for others as friends and colleagues, not just employees: This pandemic powerfully reminds us that “we are all in it together.” The health of one of us impacts the health of all of us. The same can be said for well-being. Treating everyone in your group, family, or organization with kindness establishes a bond that will weather trying times. Reflect on how you want to be treated by others and strive to show this care to all who surround you. This last year has been difficult for most people, so be patient with others as we all recover from the collective trauma. I heard it said that we were all in the storm together but in very different boats.
  • Accept responsibility: As leaders, we must learn to avoid blaming others. We typically blame someone else as a way of making ourselves feel better, but it will backfire as it disrupts the relationship and blocks future collaboration. It is far better in the long run to accept responsibility, even if it is painful in the short run.
  • Forgive mistakes: Leaders must learn to forgive mistakes and reframe them as “learning opportunities.” You can inspire others to be resilient and creative by fostering a tolerant workplace. Children are bound to make mistakes, and it is important not to damage their developing self-esteem.
  • Lead with integrity: This is an attribute that can’t be emphasized enough. The Oxford Dictionary describes it as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles: moral uprightness.” Kind leaders are transparent in their decision-making, tell the truth even when it is difficult, and treat others with respect.
  • Show gratitude: Positive feedback goes a long way in fostering connection and cooperation. Make sure that you are giving positive feedback regularly. Couples expert John Gottman, Ph.D., recommends giving 5 compliments for every criticism. While this might be too high a ratio in the workplace, it is a good rule of thumb at home.
  • Humility: Kind leaders encourage growth in others and take pride in the success of those around them. They realize that they are not in competition with others but strive to create an environment where all feel they can succeed.
  • Be inspirational: It is vitally important in today’s world, where change occurs so rapidly that you inspire those around you. Company loyalty is waning, and if you want to nurture and grow a stable workforce, you must inspire others to stay around. Emphasizing the meaning and importance of work helps to create stronger bonds. Millennials, in particular, have a high need to see purpose in their work. They have been raised with high expectations about changing the world. A successful leader will value their inputs and help them see their role in striving towards something bigger than themselves.
  • Be kind: Like all aspects of interpersonal relationships, kindness should be individualized and comes in many different forms. Some people require “tough love” and boundaries, others simply want a shoulder to cry on, and others may require more reciprocal interaction. Any form of kindness can create a positive outcome. It is beneficial for everyone and is particularly necessary during this difficult and confusing time. We are all part of humankind.
  • Be kind to yourself: Lastly, we must remember to be kind to ourselves, whether in a leadership role or everyday interactions. As the saying goes, “We cannot pour from an empty cup.” Be aware of how you speak to yourself. Our internal monologue is pretty constant, making sure the words and tone you use are kind and compassionate and not overly harsh or self-critical.
  • Take a breath: Pausing before speaking and acting allow us to engage in self-reflection and decision-making, which is more likely to lead you to choose compassionate responses.
  • Make sure you engage in regular self-care: While self-care these days has been largely depicted as bubble baths, skincare, and a glass of wine, remember that self-care encompasses many more. Ensure you are living a healthy lifestyle, including daily exercise, optimal nutrition, and proper sleep. Try to make time to socialize with others who are good for your mental health. Remember to rest and relax. This can include watching TV, meditating, praying, reading, or any other calming activity that allows you to feel rejuvenated. So if you want to be a kind leader, remember that kindness to others starts with kindness to ourselves.

“Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple, and it is also that difficult.” – Warren Bennis.