The media often portrays bosses as tough, unyielding individuals who want everything done their way. They may be depicted as demanding, order-barking narcissists with little empathy or respect for the people that work for them. True, those types of bosses exist, but they are a relic of days past when employees weren’t allowed to think for themselves. A new type of leader is emerging; one that is grounded in love and kindness.
Sure, toughness is occasionally necessary in an emergency situation or when all other options have been tried and failed. But it should be used sparingly and with forethought. In fact, I would argue that you would get more results from your employees when you balance the small amount of toughness you need to use with a whole lot of love and kindness.
This is a surprising concept; we don’t often hear about love and kindness in the workplace. Yet we’ve all experienced or observed the devastation caused by leaders who use demands and threats as their main skill for getting employees to do what they want them to do. I’m betting that the types of leaders shown in the media do not have the kind of impact they could if they balanced a small amount of strategic toughness with a lot more kindness.
Kindness is born from love. When you find a way to love the people who work for you, genuine kindness can come forward even when they screw up or when your personalities clash. Look beyond the surface appearances and personalities of your employees to find something you can love and you’ll find that kindness comes easier.
This is a different kind of relationship with employees than we’re used to. But I’ve seen it manifested time and time again. Some examples:
Andrew managed a group of employees that weren’t meeting deadlines for a major project. The project delays were costing his company money and time, and he knew that they might just cost him his job. His frustration exhibited itself in demands and orders. Every time he pushed, the employees pushed back.
Part way into the project, Andrew decided to find what was unique and special about each individual on the team. He let them know what he saw. He had conversations and listened deeply about things that mattered to them. He became more visible, stopping to chat about weekends and hobbies as well as the project. Surprising to everyone, the project was completed on time and within budget even though the team had been behind. Andrew stopped demanding and started guiding.
Andrew found a way to get beyond the surface with his employees and learn to love them for who they were. This love manifested itself in a type of kindness that surprised and encouraged those who needed to get the project done. He became more aware of how and where he was being “tough” and learned to use it sparingly and strategically.
Susanne was responsible for the accounting organization in a mid-sized company. She’d been in her position for two years and was worn down by what she felt were employees that “didn’t know how to do things right”. She struggled and fought, pushing and demanding unreasonable things with unreasonable deadlines. She held her ground even when others told her that her expectations were over the top.
At some point, Susanne saw very clearly that her pace was not the pace that everyone else could match. All of her pushing and unreasonable behavior with a workforce that wasn’t quite ready to meet her expectations wasn’t working. She slowed down, started listening to others, and set aside a budget that would provide appropriate training to the employees.
Susanne looked beyond the immediate issues of meeting deadlines and realized that the employees couldn’t meet them without knowing how to do the work. She learned to love and be kind to others through slowing her pace and listening, and over time was able to create an award winning organization.
There is a time to be tough! But it’s likely something that should be used in measured doses and for specific purposes. Try love and kindness instead as your main “go to” skill, and watch your employees and organization flourish.
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 10 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages large-scale corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.
This post was originally published in Smartblog on Leadership.