If you had asked me a few years back if I thought kindness was essential to leadership, I may have choked down laughter. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen it listed in a list of essential skills for a leader.
Perhaps we can value kindness through painfully experiencing its opposite. When I left a large company a few years ago as one of thousands being layed off following an acquisition, I wasn’t treated well on my last few days there. Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful for my years at that company, but was left with a final memory that could spoil a great career if I had let it.
This memory rears its ugly head from time to time – especially now, as I see thousands of employees losing their jobs. It’s safe to say that I wasn’t treated kindly.
The instigator of the bad experience was one person who was going through his own hell, wondering if he was going to have a job the next day. Stress does not make good bedfellows with kindness. When we’re under the extreme stress that a deep recession can cause, kindness can barely get any air time in brains and hearts that have been hijacked by worry. There are ways to encourage kindness in ourselves, though.
You can be firm and kind at the same time
Sure, in these tough times, I don’t advocate that you give up being firm. Firmness is essential too. It may be easier to be firm as you are dealing with the brunt of the recession – layoffs, pay cuts, and keeping your organization or business afloat.
However, when we are under stress, we either focus too much on the tasks to be completed or we turn inward, becoming overly focused on ourselves and our situation.
Being kind might be more essential than it has ever been.
The reasons for being kind are more compelling than ever. Geoff Colvin, author of The Upside of the Downturn, says “When the downturn ends, everyone will remember how your company behaved in the dark days.” They will also, more sharply perhaps, remember how YOU behaved in the dark days.
How can you be kind to others during the dark days?
Take care of yourself first. Really. Sounds a little strange when we’re talking about being kind to others. How can you possibly be kind to others when your health – mental and physical – aren’t at their peak?
Figure out what you might be able to control in your life outside of work (since you may be feeling like you can’t control much at work). Use that gym membership, get a therapist or a coach, increase the time you spend with your loved ones, meditate, pray, enjoy life in whatever way fulfills you.
Then you can focus on the needs of others in your organization or business. The oldest trick in the world for finding fulfillment is to help others. Like you, your employees and peers may feel fearful and powerless. What role might you play in easing that? What action can you take that will assist others in developing some control over what they can?
So when employees want to talk about what they are experiencing, listen with kindness. It will help you to be more human. And in the end, kindness will cost your organization and company less than its opposite.