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Kindness: A Foundation for Leadership, But What Else Do You Need to Succeed?

To quote one of the greatest and kindest leaders of our time, Mother Teresa, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless”. This quote has been so true throughout my life. I have had the privilege of learning from some of the best leaders around, both in the Marine Corps and as a civilian. I’ve also had terrible experiences with the other side of the kindness coin, where I felt unappreciated, unwelcome, and overworked. Here are a few shocking workplace statistics from the US Department of Health and Human Services.

These results and so many other recent studies show that mental health is becoming a front-line issue within our workplaces. Topics like “The Great Resignation” and “Quiet Quitting” are rampant largely in part to leadership dissatisfaction. People simply don’t want to work for someone who isn’t treating them kindly and fairly.

Now here me clearly… There are other factors that come into play here. It’s not all our (leaders) fault. The economy is shaky, the hybrid and remote work movement is difficult for some and, at the same time, the availability of these types of positions are highly intriguing to the new workforce. But our job, as leaders, is to ensure that our people are taken care of, and that our organizations are thriving, and I can promise you, that if your leadership style is one of kindness, compassion, and inclusion, you will slow the raging river of negative mental health challenges and employee turnover.

Now, I’ve tried to build my leadership foundation with kindness, acceptance, inclusion, and joy. But… I’ve failed time and time again, and have learned that, as we mature as leaders, we need to start building upon that foundation w

ith the knowledge that if we start operating outside of our leadership principals of kindness, our foundation starts to crack, and our house will fall down.

I also know first-hand that leadership is incredibly hard. Even in the best of circumstances, leaders have to carefully juggle human emotio

n, organizational success, sudden crisis, and personal holistic health all at once. Keeping each of these plates spinning while remaining kind and calm is almost impossible and sometimes unattainable. But… I want us to start to think of the “Kindness in Leadership” concept in a new way. Yes, being a kind and humble leader is extremely important and will make your leadership foundation strong. But, if you don’t build upon that foundation with other

tools, how will you ever thrive during hard times, make critical business decisions, and yes, even fire someone?

Some of the principals that you can build your leadership house with, with your foundation firmly set in kindness, are fairness, firmness, consistent growth, and strength. Let’s dive into these a bit…

Fairness: What does it mean to be fair? As a leader, sometimes it’s your job to make the decision on what’s fair and what is not. As you deal with the concept of fairness, keep in mind the vision and mission of your team and/or company, and then ask yourself a few questions. Does the decision I’m making align with our team vision? Will my team be able to accomplish the task based on my decisio

n? Is this what’s best for the team, or is this best for individuals? As you answer these questions, keep kindness in your mind, but do not be blinded by emotion. Instead, use the emotions to make the best decision for your team and your organization. Yes, sometimes members of your team will see this as unfair and here is where kindness really takes over. Listen to those with fairness issues and truly work through them. Stand firm in your decision but listen to their perspectives and points of view. This is data that can be used for future decisions. You are leading this team. It’s your job to make the best decision you can with the information presented to you for the good of your company or team.

Firmness: Man! This one is probably the most difficult piece of your leadership house, but it is CRITICAL in leading well. Firmness can be seen

as almost an antonym to kindness, but without it, you will be a pushover as a leader. Once again, you are in a position of leadership – whether that be in your family, at work, a friend group or in any other space. Being firm in your decision-making process will start to build structure around your team. They know that when you decide, while it’s based on input from your team (that’s the kindness undertone), it’s a decision that you will stand by. Furthermore, as a leader you have to be firm in your morals, ethics, and your values, especially when leading your people and processes. Does the way you organize and run your team reflect your values as a leader? What are your values as a leader? What are your values as a team? Figure these out and stand firm in them. Now to the matter of discipline. If you are in a leadership position for more than a year, you will have faced a time where you had to be the disciplinarian. I will tell you that you can discipline and even when firing people with kindness. This takes practice, but also a huge amount of firmness. You have made the decision to discipline, now stand firm in your decision, and deliver with kindness and growth in mind.

Consistent Growth: In business, if you aint growin you

’re dyin! Kind leaders can sometimes be seen as lazy people who just want to make everyone happy. They can be seen as stagnant leaders who are really nice, but aren’t growing their business, their selves, or their teams. I will promise you, that if you come to the table with a growth mindset, you team will follow your lead. You are the one who sets the tone for success. You are the one who will motivate your team as they thrive, fail, and recover. Bringing a growth-mindset to your team will challenge them to be better, push them outside of their comfort zones, and will make the EXCITED TO COME TO WORK!!! Using kindness in this approach is all about knowing your team and when to push them, but as their leader, you have to lead them toward individual and team growth and success. Challenge them in a healthy and kind way, and stand back.

Strength: This, right here is the best way I could think about wrapping this up. Again, kindness and strength aren’t often talked about in the same circles. Leadership is synonymous with strength. You have to be strong in every aspect we’ve already talked about and much much more. Strength is about being someone that your team can rely on. Someone that they can bring hard things to. Someone that can be trusted with a problem and can be relied upon when things get really tough. This oftentimes looks different. You have to be strong for your team, providing the top cover they need when things “roll downhill”. Communicate to your team what’s helpful, and take care of the other issues that they don’t need to know about. With this being said, you have to be strong enough to bring other leaders around you. These people are to hold you accountable and to keep you strong. Leadership can get very lonely at times but bringing in trusted advisors and friends to help you lead will be the best thing you do in 2023. You have to be strong for your

team, for your organization, and for yourself. Make sure you have people around you that will not only keep you strong, but will make you stronger, and kinder.

Like I said in the beginning, kindness should be the foundation on which you build your leadership house, but there is still so much more to leading. You have to use kindness so you can be firm, strong, and successful, but in healthy ways that build up a culture of trust, inclusion, and hypergrowth for your team. These aren’t the only parts of the leadership blueprint, but it’s a great place to start.

Start strong and finish well!

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