Kindness – an evidence-based strategy for leadership

‘Acts of kindness activate the part of our brains that makes us feel pleasure and releases a hormone called oxytocin that helps modulate social interactions and emotion. Being kind is good for our own and our employees’ mental health. And that translates to improved morale and performance.’

This quote is from an excellent short-read article by Harvard Business School emphasising the need to expand managers’ toolkits by showing kindness as a leadership strategy, as well as offering some good simple tips for giving attention to being kind.

There are endless benefits of kindness in our interactions at work focused on wellbeing for effectiveness [performance]. More than ever, there is an evidence-based need for kindness as stress levels impact mental and physical health of leaders and teams. Think burnout and psychosocial stressors that are ongoing and unchecked when relationships at work are destructive, even if not overt.

Kindness is an act and not a state

My thoughts on kindness immediately connect to the recent references to character in leadership and the acceptance speech by elected Vice President Kamala Harris where she referenced the late John Lewis as saying ‘democracy is an act and not a state’. Kindness is just that too, an act and not merely a state of being. Kindness needs to be demonstrated through our relationships with others.

‘The Human brain is set to detect threat signals in an automatic and unconscious way. Due to evolutionary reasons, these ‘automatic’ paths get priority. Therefore, growth and change do not happen by chance: it has to be carefully focused on to be triggered.’ Delphine Jumelle-Paulet

The BONUS for leaders positioned more on the continuum of task vs compassion is that kindness can be developed and learnt!

For the sceptics there is evidence-based research and scientific data that shows – 

  • We can change – our thoughts, our behaviours, our ability to thrive in this world – by adapting (learning) in ways that result in physiological changes in the brain known as neuroplasticity where new neural pathways are formed and hardwired in the brain. 
  • The good news – kindness can be taught and ingrained through practice by developing the compassion ‘muscle’ in the brain. Kindness experienced reduces stress and raises the right neurochemicals to inspire us to move forward to achieve goals and growth. 
  • Soft skills are the hard skills – previously referred to as soft skills – that relate to the human factor, namely empathy, compassion, collaboration, communication, coaching, etc. and touch on EQ (managing my emotions) and SQ (managing others’ emotions). These ‘hard skills’ make a difference to all aspects of performance, organisational wellbeing and effectiveness – people and teams.
  • Sustained change and growth can be achieved – empirical research by Richard Boyatzis and associates shows how more powerful results for sustained change is accomplished through coaching for compassion (like positive coaching-style approaches and processes) vs coaching for compliance (ensuring people meet certain behavioural requirements). What this means for leaders and teams is to focus on people development vs people management as a more effective leadership approach.

I conclude on developing and demonstrating a strategy of kindness with a connection to the bigger picture and aligning with our global collective sustainable development goals:

‘In many ways, acting out of kindness is a way to protest the present trend of pursuing happiness by increasing personal consumption and trying to capture as much as one can for oneself. Kindness – the word that is missing from the 2030 Agenda – might be the only means by which we can achieve our goals!United Nations

I invite you to connect and commit to acts of kindness in leading yourself and your team to experience a healthier and more meaningful and fulfilling work life.

What can you do differently in this next week?

#HarvardBusinessSchool #richardboyatzis #delphinejumellepaulet #unitednations #mandycarlson #neuroleadershipinstitute #neurozone #kamalaharris #kindness #carlson #BorisGroysberg #SusanSeligson