The role of kindness in leadership

The unexpected win of the Brexit campaign has made me wonder if we have an opportunity to consider the role of kindness in leadership.

People in England and Wales who want out of the European Union are disaffected; they don’t like what they see in their country and what has been done over decades to them and their community. They have suffered economically while others have prospered, resulting in a divided society and leaders who offer little in the way of an alternative. ‘Project Fear’, the campaign for the Remain side, alienated people who were already aggrieved. To me, Project Fear was relentlessly negative and lacked creativity and imagination. Those who had the misfortune to implement it were probably given little or no wiggle room by their leaders to add a positive spin, or were perhaps unaware of just how disaffected communities outside of London feel.

Not so long ago, I attended a talk on leadership. The main speaker was a board member who proudly declared that he used the Rudolph Giuliani style of leadership, which I would describe at best as being robust. He saw Giuliani as a tough leader who got things done as Mayor of New York, turning around the city’s fortunes in the 1990s. While there is no doubt that the quality of life in New York neighbourhoods did improve, my recollection of Giuliani was of a man notorious for bullying (see this 1994 story from the New York Times). During the leadership Q&A session, I posed the question ‘what is the role of kindness in leadership?’ A professor of public relations, who was also present, talked about empathy and listening and the rewards she had experienced when she had been kind to an employee, being repaid subsequently by massive loyalty. Contrast this with the Giuliani fan who openly equated kindness with being soft and weak, and was dismissive of any attempt to disagree with him. Trust and respect for more junior colleagues were noticeably absent. I think the lack of kindness in leadership is the root of much of society’s troubles today.

We need more leaders who are self-confident enough to be kind. People like: Nelson Mandela, the Queen, and my personal favourite, David Crombie, Toronto’s ‘tiny perfect mayor’ from the 1972-1978.

As Adele said at Glastonbury 2016, ‘After what went on the other day, we all need to look after each other.’ Indeed we do. Be kind, most especially if you are in a leadership role.



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