Management styles: the kind leader
Being nice is an underrated skill in business. Along with a strong work ethic and skillset, how you treat people, and your personality, impact your career. Is there a place for the ‘kind’ leader?
EQ matters more than IQ. Working with someone who is pleasant and able to work well with a diverse staff changes the work environment for the better. Kindness boosts productivity and promotes trust, and the end result is an improved bottom line.
“We’re all dependent on people working together, and I believe it’s more fun to treat people with sugar than vinegar,” said Rick David, chairman of UHY International and Chief Operating Officer of UHY Advisors, Inc. “Nice is not a four-letter word.”
Human nature says people want to work with nice people.
When issues in a workplace arise however, leaders shouldn’t be kind at all costs. There are times when leaders need to be strict as they take charge and guide the organization. The key to kindness is to be firm on the situation at hand, explained Lars Sudmann, business consultant and executive coach.
The thought that kind leaders are weak or ‘doormats’ is far from the truth – employees who get along with each other and enjoy working together are also more effective and able to meet goals. Here are tips for what managers can do to lead with kindness:
Regularly taking time for self-reflection as a leader is important because kindness can be tested during stressful periods. Considering alternative approaches to difficult stations can enable kindness in that moment when the pressure’s on, said Lars.
Set high standards and expectations
“Human nature says people want to work with nice people but nice doesn’t mean being a pushover – it means being human,” said Rick. You can still hold people accountable and set high standards for others.
People want to be challenged and held to a high standard, but it’s ok to do this with a smile and in a supportive environment where people can voice their ideas.
Nice is a good way to innovate
“In almost all areas of work and business, the focus today is on innovation, and while innovation certainly is the result of hard work, the key is to be open, explore and engage with each other to discover and implement new ideas,” said Lars.
A culture that’s open and has a focus on exploration tends to innovate more than one with a mandate of ‘Innovate now!’. By being kind throughout the process, particularly with the desired outcome, people will trust leadership knowing that they won’t be reprimanded if there are missteps along the way.
Kind feedback after failure matters
There’s much to learn from failure, which can be embarrassing, but what happens next is key. “Instead of blaming immediately, understand what made the mistake happen and move into a ‘sometimes you win, sometimes you learn’ mindset,” said Lars.
Focus on avoiding similar mistakes in the future and how you can learn from them rather than pointing fingers in a destructive manner. “People respond a lot better to [constructive feedback], and they’ll give you their all,” said Rick.
“You’re not coddling anyone – you explain your expectations and that there’s accountability. You’re not going to walk away and ignore behavioural issues, but you’re going to deal with it in a human manner rather than in a destructive manner.” When people feel like everyone is in this together – you’ll create a better team environment.
Explore rather than dictate
Dictating solutions may not work as well for soliciting ideas and exploring options with a team or individual. By opening a discussion and encouraging all to contribute, you’ll have more interesting ideas to explore that might truly be something new.
When everyone participates, you’ll discover new solutions that you may not have explored if you weren’t treating people with kindness during the process.
Set an example
Managers send messages to their group by how they work. If a team has to give up a holiday to finish a project, then the manager needs to do that too to support the team. A CEO may not give up a holiday, but they can show their commitment to workers and the organization in other ways.
The group’s leader also sets the tone for how people can interact with each other, and when that leader is kind to their staff, their staff will likely be kind to each other. “If you’re responsible for someone’s future, you are a leader and people need to appease you,” said Rick.
Handwritten notes can work wonders, whether that’s to say thank you or to congratulate someone on passing an exam. People tend to keep and remember these notes too.
“You don’t want to do it by rote, because it loses its meaning, but a note to appreciate people sends a good message and it sends a message that people are appreciated,” said Rick.
About the author
Andrea Murad is a New York–based writer. Having worked on both Wall Street and Main Street, she now pursues her passion for words. She covers business and finance, and her work can be found on BBC Capital, Consumers Digest, Entrepreneur.com, FOXBusiness.com, Global Finance and InstitutionalInvestor.com.