Kindness is not just a leadership skill; it is an essential life skill. As with many skills, kindness can be taught, demonstrated repeatedly over time in order for others to emulate. To be kind indicates that we value others. When we are kind, we treat others with respect and a willingness to serve. Kindness makes us feel good about ourselves, and by extension, helps us to feel good about other people. Kindness builds people up. That is important, especially for leaders. We want to help others feel good about themselves. We want those we interact with to leave our presence feeling uplifted, motivated, redirected, and empowered. Those feelings are possible even if we are providing challenging feedback, as long as we do so with kindness.
Kindness is the “state or quality of being kind” (Merriam-Webster, 2017). Synonyms include compassion, generosity, and benevolence. Are those natural tendencies for humans? Is it natural to be compassionate? Generous? Benevolent? Perhaps for some. For most, though, kindness is a choice.
As a noun, a key unlocks a door. As an adjective, a key is of crucial importance. What is of crucial importance that unlocks the door to kindness? It begins with care. We have to care about others, about who they are, what is occurring in their lives, what they are responsible for, and whether they have the resources necessary to be successful. Caring for others is also a choice, an action that requires us to set aside our own desires, even for a moment, in order to give of our time and energy to another person.
As we demonstrate care for others, we inherently utilize the second cut in our key to kindness: the ability to listen. Similar to care, listening is a choice that requires us to focus on another person, to hear and understand, to be empathetic, and to open the lines of communication so others can share with us their thoughts, ideas, and opportunities, as well as their areas of trepidation. Listening helps us to understand others.
The third cut of a key is service. Serving others helps us to develop meaning in our own lives. When we actively engage in putting someone else’s needs above our own, we are serving them. When we serve others, we tell them, without words, that they are a person of worth and we are grateful that they are in our lives. As with care and listening, service requires that we step outside of ourselves, giving of our time and energy to benefit someone else.
The key to kindness, then, is actually selflessness. When we demonstrate selflessness, we care for others, listen to them, and serve them.
The leadership lesson? We are the key to kindness for those who follow us. We model kindness so they are better able to be kind. We demonstrate compassion and generosity for others so that the ripple can continue beyond us into our workplaces and communities. Leaders: as we care for, listen to, and serve others, we are the key to kindness.