Good Leadership is an Act of Kindness

Viewed in Harvard Business Review

What attributes define the successful executive and manager?

Hard skills, compassion and kindness

It seems like we move through evolutionary periods in business management that emphasize hard skills and metric-driven performance only to later discover that we’ve emphasized them at the expense of soft skills and need to be reminded of what should be the obvious: that all employees are human beings with their own challenges and struggles and that compassion and basic kindness also are essential management tactics.

Soft skills

For a few years now, soft skills have been receiving the lion’s share of focus—and especially so since the Covid-19 pandemic emerged early last year to present employees with new and unanticipated challenges.

New climate

Harvard Business School professor Boris Groysberg and independent researcher Susan Seligson argue that “the most innately human” approach—that of kindness—cannot be underestimated in this new climate.


A Gallup survey conducted last year bolstered this conclusion. Only 45 percent of respondents then said that they believe their employer “cares about their well-being.”

Mental health decline

If that fire alarm were not loud enough to today’s managers, consider the new stresses confronting today’s employees. A Mind Share Partners study conducted last March and April as the pandemic began to escalate found that 42 percent of respondents said their mental health had declined since the pandemic’s emergence.

Combine those growing stresses with the perception of a lion’s share of employees that their employer is ambivalent about their well-being and the magnitude of the managerial crisis is self-evident.

More sensitivity

Especially in this demanding and stressful pandemic period, today’s managers need an escalated level of sensitivity in their interactions to manage successfully.

But while the stakes for managers are high, the good news is that the steps associated with projecting this kindness are not terribly taxing. But they do require a special focus.

How are you managing these days?

Phrases like “I hear you” and “I’m here for you” are reassuring and simple questions like “Are you okay?” and “How are you managing these days?” bring a manager’s empathetic side to words and can prove calming and reassuring to employees.

Thank you

And we also are reminded that the golden phrase cannot be forgotten. “Thank you” communicates an acknowledgment that an employee’s efforts are appreciated in these stressful days and goes far to communicate gratitude and inspire performance.

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