Discovering Leading with Kindness

Monday, July 7th, 2008

Michael O'Malley

“Leading with Kindness” is a research-based book supported by evidence from scholarly reports, interviews with renowned leaders and our own observations. Our starting point was to examine interview data for common themes and to superimpose that information onto what we know about organizations – and then to make adjustments as needed. In the end, what we were told, what we have read, and what we have witnessed are in close alignment and collectively form the organization for the book.

In particular, we were able to define the key attributes of kind leaders including humility, authenticity, gratitude, integrity, humor and compassion, and to describe their meanings in the context of organizational life and their relationship to organizational performance. For each of the six attributes we identified, we offer a rich analysis of their essence and their particular relevance to sound leadership.

Next, we focused on the behavioral sets of kind leaders, vacating the usual discussions of what leaders are like in preference to explaining what they in fact do. Thus, we give substance to kindness in action. Specifically, we provide details on how leaders do three things particularly well: set expectations, provide honest assessments and feedback, and promote growth. There is quite a bit to each of these components of leadership practice and we duly dissect them so the reader of “Leading with Kindness” can take the requirements for each and implement them. In summarizing leadership behaviors, we liken leadership and the leader to a work of art and an artist who intrigues and engages the viewer, incorporates them into their sphere of influence and invites them to participate in a worthy pursuit.

We caution that it isn’t so simple to apply these behaviors as if following a recipe or checking off a list of ‘to dos.’ One reason for this is that it just isn’t that easy and another reason is that leaders operate within, and often inherit, problematic cultures in which employees fight against progressive changes or, worse, cynically remain idle bemoaning a futile future. Thus, in beating back helplessness, we demonstrate how leaders can create what we refer to as ORE cultures: open, resilient, engaged. It is a culture that is more permitting of creative action and sustained results: that is more receptive to what leaders have to offer.

In the end, our research reveals that great leaders are able to pass along four invaluable gifts to followers that enable followers to subsequently develop into fine leaders of unique character and style. Those gifts are the 4 Ss of self-confidence, self-control, self-awareness and self-determination gifts that allow them to manage with self-possession, aplomb and maturity.

Although our investigation is empirical and, we believe, our conclusions sound, there is no grand theory that lies behind our text. Our analysis is predicated on a basic observation that all people want certain things for themselves and all desire to be treated a certain way. Further, good people want those very same things for those they love and care about. Our book to some degree, then, is about how to keep things that can get in the way of respectful and advantageous relations, out of the way.

Michael O’Malley

Coauthor, “Leading with Kindness”