AOM Press Releases

Management Today: A Word on Kindness, a Misunderstood Leadership Trait

05 Feb 2021
Recent AMJ research suggests that a lack of kindness harms performance.

Originally found at Management Today, by Stephen Jones.

There are three things in human life that are important, Henry James, the US novelist, allegedly advised his nephew on his first day of school. “The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”

The line's origins are slightly mysterious, if even correct - the reference is a paraphrased quote believed to be from a biography published many years after his death - but the message is a good one.

Leadership can be made to feel like a dark art at the best of times. Human beings are complex creatures, with different wants, needs and aspirations. Some are motivated by money, others by the enjoyment or the sense of purpose they get from their job. The job of the leader is to find a way to get them all working towards the same outcome.

During a pandemic - when everything is so uncertain, and people are grappling with fears and anxieties as well as the debilitating, focus-shredding task of combining homeschooling with work - that’s harder than ever.

I have written before about how showing gratitude is the easiest tool at a manager’s disposal. Now recent research published in Academy of Management Journal suggests that showing kindness can actually boost performance, or at least that a lack of kindness harms it.

Researchers from the University of Washington wanted to measure the impact of compassion among service workers and stressed students. They found that ‘expressions of compassion’, either expressed through nudges encouraging a person to be kind to themselves or indirect expressions from a line manager, could reduce levels of burnout by minimising exhaustion, cynicism and ineffectiveness.

Such is the extent to which kindness has been underrated as a leadership trait that a collaboration between Saïd Business School, the Global Thinkers Forum, Women of the Future and Hall & Partners recently launched an award to highlight the actions of kind leaders around the world.

The description on the Kindness & Leadership 50 Leading Lights campaign website defines kind leaders as those who connect with others, empower colleagues to succeed, inspire creativity and are willing give their time to others. There are many ways to do all of those, and none of them involve shouting.

But kindness isn’t just arranging a Zoom call to get to know someone, thanking people for their hard work or sending them free deliveries of brownies. It’s also about being honest and candid.

Continue reading the original article at Management Today.

Read the original research in Academy of Management Journal.

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