If you were measured according to Kindness Performance Indicators, what would you score?

In a climate of increasing complexity and uncertainty, where burnout and stress levels are both higher than is safe, there have been calls for a more responsible form of leadership in business and society. There are multiple ways that this is currently being expressed, from the rise in compassionate leadership to well-being initiatives and advice on work-life balance and resilience. 

The relationship between kindness and leadership is at the heart of much of this. To break this down – let’s break this down a bit to take a look at it.

For companies to improve, the organisation’s people have to become more competent and more resourceful and work together more effectively over time. For this to work, people have to care about their work, the company and one another. This requires the expert orchestration of a kind leader. (William Baker & Michael O’Malley, Leading with Kindness, 2008)

Kindness – friendly, generous, and considerate.

To many people, the idea of kindness in the workplace is too touchy-feely or simply bad management. But research suggests that rather than making you appear soft, kindness and altruism can increase your standing in a group as a leader.

Consider this: Two of your colleagues possess roughly the same levels of talent and skill; who do you look up to the most? Who do you prefer to work with or invite to a project? Chances are, it’s the kinder one. And, in addition to making you pleasant and easy to work with, kindness demonstrates trustworthiness.

Trust is a crucial aspect of our lives because it makes us feel safe. Kindness, like many forms of connection between people, starts within. For some, moving towards this can mean taking hold of how we talk to ourselves and consciously changing it to be more appreciative.

Being kind does not mean being nice.

Workplaces require a level of accountability to function. We all have roles to perform, and our output matters to our teams and the wider systems that we are part of and being held accountable for the quality and appropriateness of that is important. 

There’s a link here to psychological safety, as described by Amy Edmonsona Harvard Business School professor who coined the term. In psychologically safe environments, there are low levels of fear, and people feel able to speak their minds – learning from mistakes is encouraged and even celebrated. This is not the result of being nice – in fact, it’s impossible to have a level of psychological safety without a healthy level of conflict.

The aim here is honesty. It’s not kind to hold back constructive feedback to someone who genuinely needs it to improve how they perform. In the medium to long term, that benefits no one. But kindness can be displayed in how appreciatively the feedback is offered.

Appreciative feedback is offered with a positive and future-focused tone. The emphasis here is on how to move forward in a way that builds on what is working well now – not placing blame for the past. Giving and receiving regular feedback in this way is one of the keys to both team and personal development.

Kindness Performance Indicators

The outline of kindness can be seen in trust, compassion and teamwork, whilst the pragmatic application of kindness can be seen in the emphasis placed on common sense and attentiveness. In the context of kindness, the emphasis is on ‘common sense, using thining and reflection to bring people together and agree. The word ‘common’ in this use does not refer to frequency, but commonality, working together for the common good. Attentiveness is focussed on empathy, emotional intelligence and self-awareness of your personal role to care for and help others. 

Many of these variables are relational, and so measurement and progression towards greater levels of them within any organisation are going to be reliant on the ability of the individuals within the system to candidly talk about them (hence the link to psychological safety). That can feel complex and is something that needs to be approached with careful thought. There are, however, some straightforward steps that you can take to move you in the right direction.

Steps towards stronger Kindness Performance Indicators as a leader

  1. Seek and be open to feedback on your impact on those around you
  2. Openly talk about what kindness means within your team or organisation 
  3. find your balance point between kindness, compassion, safety and accountability and performance – this is contextual and so finding the right point for your unique circumstances is important
  4. Acknowledge acts of kindness from others with praise and recognition – kindness can be contagious when actively praised 

If this struck a chord, why not read more and download my ebook on successfully leading change. Alternatively, click here and let’s talk. Conversations cost nothing, and it’s always good to connect with new people.

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