Kindness in leadership – Why it matters – Dr Chee Su Yin and Dr Oon Chern Ein, Universiti Sains Malaysia

Kindness and leadership are words that do not usually come together. However, to promote a healthy and happy working environment and to earn the trust and respect of each person in an organisation, kindness in leadership is essential. Even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic as we try to accept the new normal way of life. For some of us, living the new normal may mean having to survive with less or no financial income, having lost loved ones, struggling with mental health, or having to juggle with increased family responsibilities due to the cascading socio-economic impacts of the pandemic. The calamity has provoked timely reflections on what it means to practise kindness, especially at the workplace.
Kind leaders are always available for conversations. In times of uncertainty, employees should feel comfortable to approach and communicate with their leaders regardless of whether it is about work or personal issues. After all, humans are complete beings and should not be expected to leave out parts of their life at the doorstep of their workplace. Communication is the only sure way leaders can gauge their employees’ morale, concerns, and thoughts. Assuming or ignoring how employees feel about their job (and its security) and where they are coming from without having a face-to-face conversation with them is often portrayed as arrogant, aloof, and callous.
The key to effective communication comes from listening with empathy. People say the best leaders are emphatic leaders. These leaders are able to relate, connect, listen and bond with their employees for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives. They are able to put themselves in the shoes of their employees, experience their feelings, and take these experiences into consideration during decision-making. As the world grapples with the negative impacts of the pandemic, stress can come in different forms, and there may not be answers to everything, but empathising does create the connectedness we all crave.
Kind leaders practice emotional control. They do not lose their temper or lash out at employees at staff meetings. Kind leaders do not publicly threaten or humiliate employees to exercise their authority or voice their dissatisfactions. There is no excuse, reason, logic, or rationalisation that validates public embarrassment of employees. Kind leaders should have enough emotional intelligence to recognise the stress, frustration, disappointment, and other negative emotions within themselves as they occur, and express them in an appropriate and a constructive manner at the workplace. At this point, almost every person on earth has additional problems and issues to deal with. With sensitivities running high, it is important to practice emotional intelligence.
Whether in the face of a pandemic or not, kind leaders practice inclusiveness, fairness and equality. A kind leader should always include all employees in organisational plans and give every single person a fair chance to exercise their talent and succeed. Opportunities, whether in the form of a pay rise, promotions, or desirable assignments, should be fairly distributed. In an establishment headed by a kind leader, transparency and authenticity are important to build strong foundations based on trust, fairness, and equality. Employees who feel that they have been treated unbiasedly will result in higher productivity, increased motivation, and improved relationships. Trust is forged between leaders and employees, and this contributes to unity within an organisation.
Kind leaders empower others. Empowerment gives liberation to employees to work at their full capacity with the knowledge that they have the support of their leaders. It also offers workers authority and a sense of ownership over the work they are carrying out. This creates responsibility within the workers who will tend to strive towards excellence and deliver their best. Individuals who work independently within the granted capacity towards a shared vision will ensure the success of the organisation as a whole. Good leaders do not allow their personal agenda or insecurities to hinder their ability to empower employees.
Lastly, kind leaders appreciate. Appreciation is a common courtesy that needs to be far more common. Acts of gratitude like rewarding hard work, saying “Thank you” or just a simple pat on the back, can go a long way in spurring employees on to continue striving for the organisation, increase morale, foster loyalty, and boost motivation. Simple acts of appreciation are not difficult to exercise. In a world that is ridden with trouble right now, a few kind words or a positive gesture can make a difference in creating a working environment that people enjoy.
Ultimately, kind leaders do more than merely say. They inspire and build confidence in others. As leaders, we may make mistakes; hence self-reflection is essential to ensure that we become more aware of our initial inclinations and strive to see positivity in trying times. It takes a lot of courage to be kind during tough times, but every effort counts. Pride aside, humility and empathy can build trust, help talents feel valued, and support each individual to play to their own strengths. The returns are remarkable for the leader and the organisation. In those terms, kindness is never wasted, and it always makes a difference. We rise by lifting others.