Kindness and Leadership

| | General Leadership

Kindness in LeadershipToday I’m thrilled to share a guest post written by Jon Mertz of Thin Difference. Jon is passionate about dispelling the myth of a generation gap and uniting leaders across generations to share experiences and learn from one another.

Kindness and Millennials: Leadership Renewed

In reading Susan Mazza’s Leading Made Simple Report, there are certain “rubber ball” ideas, meaning they keep bouncing around in my thoughts. The simplicity of the thoughts turn into a complexity of discernment. What to do with these ideas in terms of the next generation of leaders? How would a Millennial leader grab ahold and really take it to the next level of achievement?

Mixing Self and Purpose

Purpose is at the center. In almost the same breathe, Millennials get classified as being self-absorbed while also being congratulated in being more purpose-driven than previous generations. This dichotomy presents an interesting middle ground. The middle usually holds things together, and it is no different here.

In the middle of self-absorbed and purpose-driven is learning, growing, and doing. Self-centeredness can be a positive thing if – and a BIG if – it is focused on bettering ourselves. Being focused on trying new things, learning new ways, and venturing out enables growth as individuals. The wrapper of purpose-driven keeps a generation bound in doing the right things and making our workplaces and communities a better place.

Self and purpose are tightly bound, and we need to keep these ties in place.

The Role of Kindness

Within this enters a key bouncing idea from Leading Made Simple. It is:

“Could committing an act of leadership be as simple as committing an act of kindness?”  — Susan Mazza

In its simplicity is its power.

Kindness equals leadership, and leadership equals kindness. Let’s explore this.

Being kind does not mean weakness. Many times, kindness takes effort. We go out of our way to lend a hand, offer an empathetic ear, or say an encouraging word. Giving comes from a strength inside, along with a strength in backbone. At times, the kindest thing we can do is to deliver an honest message or a firm insight of why someone is not on the right path.

It may be the “iron fist in a velvet glove” approach to leadership. Kindness requires us to coach, mentor, slightly pull, lightly cajole, and always be honest on what the issues may be. All the while, we need to embrace the individual. It is not an embrace to hold them in place or make them conform to our ways. It is an embrace of kindness. A smile to lift up their gifts and a steely gaze to encourage them to unwrap them.

This is where kindness equals leadership.

Being a leader does not mean being unkind. There are many tough choices and decisions leaders need to make. And, we are all leaders because we all have a life to be led. Just as time ages us, it can wear our leadership down to being gruff and isolated. Previous generations of leaders may fall into this trap, and self-centeredness enters in full force, entrapping our soul and spirit.

Kindness releases the gruffness. It opens up our leadership spirit. Kindness empowers us to lead in a refreshed and community-centered way. Kindness returns the spark to what we do and why we do it. While kindness opens our mind to new viewpoints, it opens our hearts to new ways to embrace others in our purpose-filled paths forward.

This is where leadership equals kindness.

Millennial Leadership Centered in Kindness

Yes, you can say the Millennials are “kinder and gentler” leaders but don’t – absolutely don’t – confuse this with being weak. Millennials have strength in purpose. They have a determination resonate of a generation past.

Millennial leaders have an act of self-kindness, meaning they are willing to educate themselves and learn in new ways. It is not self-absorption; it is soaking in as much information and insights as they possibly can in the shortest time possible.

Millennial leaders have an outward kindness, meaning they have a focus on leaving a place better than they found it. They are reaching out and pulling others up. It is more than just charity; it is new business models that give back in unique and kind ways. Profit mixed with altruism is possible.

This is the new generation of leaders and we should be optimistic. I am more than heartened. I am energized by Millennial leaders and the possibilities ahead.

As Boomers and Gen Xers, we need to engage in conversations, offering our lessons learned and kindness unbound in what we give.

As Millennials, you need to engage in cross-generational conversations, offering your renewed ways and kindness unbound in what you give.

Kindness echoes simplicity. In the return voice, we begin to understand how kindness is centered in how we can lead in a better way. It is our leadership call, no matter the generation we come from.

Kindness is our renewed call to act as leaders. How will you embed kindness in your leadership?

Jon Mertz is a vice president of marketing in the healthcare industry and is a leadership populist, writing to empower Millennial leaders. When we share experiences rather than focus on differences, we realize a thin difference between two generations and a vast opportunity exists to create a big leadership story. Follow Jon @ThinDifference on Twitter or on the Thin Difference Facebook page. Read more on his blog, Thin Difference.


Enter A Comment

Gold Beard   |   16 July 2013   |   Reply

I agree, but sometimes kindness and honesty are mutually exclusive. Direct communication, delivered with tact, is at the top of my list of leadership tools.

Jon Mertz   |   17 July 2013   |   Reply

I believe kindness and honesty can go together and being civil in delivery is what brings them together. In kindness, we can be direct. Thanks for your feedback and insights. Grateful! Jon

Jocelyn Lowinger   |   20 July 2013   |   Reply

Thankyou for this thought provoking post.

I don’t see any contradiction between leadership and kindness, I think true leaders embody kindness. That’s because I see kindness as more than just giving to others, or letting them have an easy time.

I see true kindness as being mindful of the person front of you, giving when that will be beneficial and withholding when to give is detrimental. A little bit like the tough love parents often need.

So a truly kind leader will make sure their people have what they need to flourish, and withhold what will detract fom the mission or be detrimental. And this can and should be done on and individual level as well as a team or company level.

I have written about the paradox of kindness at http://snapconnectinspire.wordpress.com/2013/06/09/the-light-of-kindness-2/ I hope this adds to the conversation.

Thanks again

Jon M (@ThinDifference)   |   21 July 2013   |   Reply


Thanks so much for your comment and for the link to your article. It is very applicable. Withholding kindness can have an adverse impact on what our leadership abilities can really do and empower. We need embrace our kindness trait and use it in the way we lead. As you discuss, we need to create that space…. the kindness zone between two or more people in our organizations, our teams, our culture….

Great adds to the conversation. Thank you!


Kelly   |   24 July 2013   |   Reply

I really appreciate the breakdown of the “tough leader” stereotype and the emphasis that kindness is not weakness but empowerment and ultimately success for all. I also appreciate how you explain the connection between self and purpose with Millennials. This is something I have been trying to explain as a Millennial and you articulated it so well. While our decisions may seem self-absorbed, it is usually a misjudgment by others who do not understand the emphasis we place on making purposeful, meaningful decisions that may not fit with what has “traditionally” been done and is thus the norm. Thanks for being a great voice for us Millennials, Jon!

Jon M (@ThinDifference)   |   25 July 2013   |   Reply

Thanks so much, Kelly, for your feedback and thoughts. Living through purpose-filled decisions is so important and other generations can (and should) take note of how Millennials are doing this. I hope Millennials never lose this approach. Doing this will deliver much more meaning and great, real life impact than ever before. Again, your feedback and insights are much appreciated! Jon

Julie Cooper   |   24 July 2013   |   Reply

I agree that you can deliver a tough message kindly – the message may be hard, but an empathetic approach, taking the other person’s view into account will set you apart, as Jocelyn worded beautifully. I am optimistic too about the future of leadership too.

I was moved by an article by Caitlin Moran this week, where she gave advice to her 13 year old – I wondered if it could be applied to managers and leaders as well. I loved this quote:

“The main thing is just to try to be nice – you already are – and I want you to hang on to that and never let it go. Keep slowly turning it up, like a dimmer switch, whenever you can. Just resolve to shine, constantly and steadily, like a warm lamp in the corner, and people will want to move towards you in order to feel happy, and to read things more clearly. You will be bright and constant in a world of flux, and this will save you the anxiety of other, ultimately less satisfying things”

My short article including this quote, Just Resolve to Shine is here: http://www.springdevelopment.net/category/people-tips/

Julie Cooper
Author of Face to Face in the Workplace

Jon M (@ThinDifference)   |   25 July 2013   |   Reply

I am very optimistic, too, Julie about the impact the next generation of leaders can have. We need to embrace them, share our experiences, and engage them in conversations to foster thought processes and to lead in refreshing ways. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and added insights! Jon