Learn, Share, Grow - Good Leadership is an Act of Kindness

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November 9, 2020

Below is a lesson from Harvard Business School Working Knowledge on how leaders can help cultivate kindness, as well as our key learnings.

The Blue Courage team is dedicated to continual learning and growth.  We have adopted a concept from Simon Sinek’s Start With Why team called “Learn, Share, Grow”.  We are constantly finding great articles, videos, and readings that have so much learning.  As we learn new and great things, this new knowledge should be shared for everyone to then grow from.

Good Leadership Is an Act of Kindness

by Boris Groysberg and Susan Seligson

“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” —Henry James

As a professor of business administration in the Organizational Behavior Unit at the Harvard Business School, I teach courses in leadership in the MBA and Executive Education programs. With the COVID-19 pandemic transforming our lives at every level, a growing number of students and former students have sought my advice about how to lead in a time of great uncertainty and unprecedented employee stress.

The stories these executives tell attest to the fact that these are the most difficult times in memory for many, if not most people. Parents struggle to balance the demands of remote work and homeschooling. Employees who live alone strain to stay focused while isolated from loved ones and traditional social supports. In between Zoom meetings, caretakers exhaust themselves attending to a special needs child or ailing parent. Everyone frets over their physical and financial well-being. Who among us isn’t anxious, stressed out, and off our game right now? 

From bolstering remote collaboration to scheduling meetings upon meetings, the business press and bloggers are buzzing with guidance about ways to sustain employee engagement and productivity in the chaos of a pandemic. Unfortunately, most Management 101 advice does not recognize that in times like these, the manager’s toolkit must expand in ways we haven’t seen before.

I believe that a powerful, fundamental leadership strategy is being largely overlooked. It is, in fact, the most innately human one: Be kind.

Continue reading here.

Key Learnings:

  • In times like these, the manager’s toolkit must expand in ways we haven’t seen before.
  • Less than half of employees (45 percent) feel strongly that their employer cares about their well-being. (Gallup survey)
  • Practicing active, habitual kindness can transform the remote workplace and it can start today.
  • 42 percent of respondents said their mental health had declined since the outbreak. (Mind Share Partners in partnership with Qualtrics and SAP study)
  • While confronting layoffs, remote work technology, market woes, and a range of other frustrating disruptions requires time and unique skill sets, kindness does not.
  • Kindness is teachable. “People can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help.” (Ritchie Davidson of the University of Wisconsin)
  • It’s important to remember that kindness is contagious as well as calming.
  • The Mayo Clinic urges us to “intentionally set a goal to be kinder to others. Express sincerely felt kindness to a co-worker.”
  • 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. 
  • Psychology Today on kind bosses: “They have been shown to increase morale, decrease absenteeism and retain employees longer. Kind bosses may even prolong the lives of their employees by decreasing their stress levels which improves cardiovascular health.”
  • Straightforward, effective ways to practice kindness as a matter of course:
    • “I hear you.” Really listen. Be fully present and don’t judge. Encourage employees’ questions and concerns. Listen actively.
    • “Are you okay?” Show a willingness to provide comfort and monitor for signs of distress such as social withdrawal and poor performance. Know when to refer an employee to professionals.
    • “What can we do to help?” Being kind might also involve taking an active role in offering mental health resources or creating a virtual support group or sounding board.
    • “How are you managing these days?” Being single and working under quarantine alone carries a very different set of stresses than being a member of a working family with young children. 
    • “I’m here for you.” Let your employees know routinely that you are there for them when they need to share concerns or simply require a sympathetic, nonjudgmental ear. Consider making yourself available at times outside work hours; these are not normal times.
    • “I know you’re doing the best you can.” This statement is, with few exceptions, true. In times of crisis, bosses must alter their expectations.
    • “Thank you.” Say it with sincerity and say it often.
  • Along with empathy and emotional intelligence, kindness is one of the most essential soft skills for good leadership. But in these times, it might be the most crucial one.

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