Welcome to my blog. This is one in a series looking at leadership characteristics. This blog builds on my earlier blogs I posted and, as we are all short on time these days, it is condensed. Drawing on my work as an executive coach I am going to share with you my thoughts on what makes a great leader.
Many of the interpersonal skills you need as a leader you will not have been taught in business school. Our current culture and imagery of leadership does not help us much either. The focus in many businesses is “win” at all costs, by sometimes putting others down to succeed and offering no space for safe public dialogue or disagreement. If you don’t believe me turn on UK or US news today and most days!
Our corporate organizations, countries, workers, families and communities are really suffering in this environment. We go to work and then we go home stressed, angry, sad, and suffering poor health mentally or physically. Too many work places are where we feel bullied, harassed, and discriminated against. If we stay in these bad atmospheres in the workplace, we go on to become a more diminished as humans too.
Yet so much research tells us our staff and our leaders are desperate for kindness and compassion. If you are interested in this, try Emma Seppala “The hard data on being a nice boss”. https://hbr.org/2014/11/the-hard-data-on-being-a-nice-boss.
As a coach myself, leaders often ask coaches to come in and fix their staff, improve their cultures or develop wellbeing programs. The best leaders know create the culture, so they are the problem and the solution. If we want kind organizations then we need to start with ourselves. Kindness builds personal and organisational resilience. Kindness expressed by you also encourages kindness in others. So, in work and family life you start to see discretionary effort from others.
We all can start being better by learning to practice kindness. Kindness is a form of mediation, but I have to warn you this takes work. You will not crack this in a day but with practice and patience you will get better, and your relationships and organization will start to see the results and change as over-time. Father Richard Rohr from The Centre of Action and Contemplation refers to Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön, in helping us think about growing a loving kindness, or maitri.
Lao Tzu said
“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”
People mistake kindness as weakness, they think to be tough is to get the job done. Or they see kindness as a reciprocal act – “be nice to me and I will be nice to you”. It does not work like that you must be kind first, unconditionally and the kindness then flows back. Too many leaders are not kind to themselves and when we as coaches draw near, we can see this. These leaders struggle to lead kind organizations. They put
themselves under unbelievable stress and pressure thinking this is how it must be to lead.
But real kindness expressed and felt is like a magic ointment for the soul. Skeptical? Then think of a time a stranger showed you kindness and how it filled you up for a moment with warm and positive feelings. You have no idea who they were or why they were kind, but boy did it help you that day. It was not reciprocal, they will get nothing back from you for the kindness. We can all be kind to family or bosses who we want to like us or promote us, but I would argue that is not actually kindness. It is manipulation. Even the worst dictators in history were nice to their kids!
We all need to start with “what can I do” or “what can I doing to improve things”. We know as coaches that you as a leader are the answer here. But the catch is you must do the work to improve.
So, If I have your attention let us start with this idea and just give up 5 minutes of your day. Find a quiet place and begin this mindful meditation:
Day 1: Start by recognizing the place of loving kindness inside yourself. It is there and it is for you to awaken it, and actively draw upon it. Take a few moments and focus on the kindness inside you, be curious, just observe how you feel.
Day 2: Think of someone you love very much and send loving kindness toward this person and bless them.
Day 3: Think loving kindness for someone who is at work maybe an associate – send love to that individual.
Day 4: It is getting trickier, now send loving kindness to someone about whom you feel neutral or indifferent towards in your organization. Send your blessing to this person.
Day 5: Think of someone who has hurt you, who has talked evil of you, whom you find it difficult to like or you don’t enjoy being around in your organization. Bless them; send this would-be enemy your love. I find this step hard and I have to keep going back to it, this is ok also to repeat any step.
Day 6: Bring all the first five individuals into the stream of flowing love, including yourself. Hold them here for a few moments. Focus on kind thoughts to them. And then extend this love to embrace all beings in the universe.
This practice can help you know—in your mind, heart, and body—that kindness is actually love. It is not determined by the worthiness of the object or the response they give you whether it be good, bad or neutral. This practice of kindness increases with use so please do it more, add more people in over time. Why not keep a journal of who you are sending kindness to?
When you are feeling brave you might try some of this work with colleagues and in teams on kindness. I like Nancy Kline in her book “Time to Think.” I love her work on expressing appreciation and I have used these techniques with clients, and they have felt huge impact. I used this technique with a School Senior Leadership Team, and if you don’t believe me, hear what they said about it: “The exercise using appreciation of each other impacted all staff professionally and emotionally in a positive way.”
Please let me know how you are doing with your kindness practice and do connect with me via LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter @ltdblend or at www.ltdblend.com. We work in the USA and the UK face to face or skype/facetime. We are back in New York end of August 2019. We would love to connect with you there if you are in town.