Effective Leadership: The Kind -vs- Negative Leader

by | Feb 4, 2019

When I read Kindness Can Make You a Better Leader, naturally I thought this would be perfect for the February leadership article during a month that celebrates hearts and kindness. After all, is it possible to have a happy workplace not inspired by kindness?

Then, I ran across Why We’re Drawn to Leaders Who Emphasize the Negative. It basically says that leaders who espouse negative comments are perceived as more powerful, in part, because people feel they are telling the truth and will have their backs because they are willing to confront others.

So, I’ve spent days pondering the question: “If being negative espouses power, then how can a kind leader really be better?”

Studies show that happy people are 12% more productive in the workplace. Kindness makes people happy. Logically, if you’re leading a team, kind leadership certainly helps get the job done.

However, the question that might not have been asked in some of these studies is, “Do both kindness and negativity create effective leadership?”

Effective leaders understand that employees expect and need their managers to:

Be Honest with Them

Poor communication is always one of the top happiness zappers for a company. When employees don’t know what’s going on, or understand expectations, or feel they are getting mixed messages from their leaders, they minimally fret over it, which taxes their emotional bandwidth. And, more than likely, they spend time trying to get clarification discussing the cloudy communication with their co-workers.

Therefore, being as honest as you can with your team fosters good relationships and trust. It also reduces wasted emotional energy, which allows your team to focus on doing their jobs.

If a company asks employees, specifically your team, to do something that doesn’t make sense to the team members, even a kind leader needs to acknowledge it.

If you always try to keep it positive, being honest may feel like you are speaking negatively. However, acknowledging something that feels counterintuitive is about being truthful regarding the facts as perceived by your team. Facts, even negative ones, are simply facts.

Just because a team doesn’t understand why they need to do something doesn’t mean they don’t need to do it—they do. Each team is a piece of a bigger-picture-organizational-puzzle, and the team, or even you as the leader, may not always see the big completed picture. Sometimes organizations need to try new things to find out that they don’t work.

However, by acknowledging how your team feels, you can best devise a plan to realistically get the job done, even when it feels challenging (code for waste of time). That’s being kindly realistic.

Have Their Backs

Employees want to know their leaders have their backs—at least to the best of their ability. This fosters loyalty. When a leader appears too “kind,” or nice, your team may perceive you as someone who won’t have their backs. They may feel you are too nice to be assertive on their behalf.

Can a leader be kind and strong? Of course. But this, again, may feel awkward if you lead with kindness. Being strong sometimes means being emphatic with your leaders — the people who manage you. This may feel uncomfortable, depending on how your leaders manage. And, by emphatic, I mean, making sure that upper management understands a situation from your team or team member’s perspective —especially if productivity or actions are being questioned.

A manager that has the backs of her (or his) team members inspires team loyalty and engagement — it’s actually kindness in action.

Coaching With Care

Sometimes the kindest thing a manager does is individually coach his team members. And, it’s what the best leaders do:

  • When someone needs constructive communication — give it.
  • When someone needs assistance — give it.
  • When someone needs recognition­ — give it.
  • When someone needs encouragement — give it.

Coaching lets your team members know you care. Each team member is unique, and what motivates and inspires each is personal. Gone are the days when team members adjust to their managers. Millennials want, even expect, their managers to adjust to them.

However, when you think of leadership coaches, hasn’t this always been the case — the best coaches adjust their style to inspire excellence with each team member. After all, a kind leader’s understanding of flexibility is the best way to get the best results, no matter the situation.

So, to answer my question — yes, kind leaders are effective leaders when they couch kindness with reality — even if that reality is negative. Kind, realistic leaders are effective because they empower their teams to find possible solutions. This allows everyone to succeed — and even thrive.

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