Celebrating the power of kindness in leadership

Kindness & Leadership 50 Leading Lights list is now open

Sugar and spice and all things nice

I grew up being taught to be kind. To be thoughtful; to empathise; to put others before me. It was, we were told, just what girls were supposed to do. This meant we’d never be winners in the game of life, of course. To succeed, you had to be ruthlessly competitive. Aggressive, even. And supremely confident. But leading wasn’t our allotted role anyway. We were born to be the carers, not the breadwinners. 

Thankfully it feels utterly archaic now to suggest that women should aspire to be the person “behind every great man”. But what I was taught back then is fundamentally wrong in another way too, because we now know that kindness isn’t the antithesis of success. It isn’t just what nice girls who play a supporting role do. Kindness is what great leaders are made of.

Kindness is a leadership superpower

Sadly, though, that’s an idea that many in business, politics and society are still catching up with. Hall & Partners, Oxford University and Saïd Business School recently found in their The Power of Kindess study that despite kindness in leadership resulting in better quality of work and higher employee motivation, only a third of the thousand employees they surveyed strongly agreed that their direct boss is kind, and even less – a quarter – strongly agreed that their organisation’s ultimate leader is kind. It’s something we talk about often at WACL – how ironic it is that the model of leadership that’s now proven most effective is actually built on those very traits that many of us were taught as girls – empathy, humility, vulnerability, integrity and collaboration. But those qualities are still a long way from being accepted as the dominant model of leadership in many organisations. 

That’s why the recent WACL Festival of Talent explored new models of leadership with many of the next generation of female leaders. It’s also why we love and support the work that the phenomenal Pinky Lilani is doing to celebrate Kindness & Leadership and encourage more of it – in men and women; in established leaders and those on their way to a senior leadership role; in Asia Pacific and here in the UK.

Building a community of kindness

I was fortunate enough to talk to Pinky about why she works so hard to build what she calls this “community of kindness”, as well as how powerful it can be. 

A hugely successful woman, she lives by the adage “you’ve never lived a good day until you’ve given kindness to someone who cannot repay you.” This is manifested in her many random acts of kindness, including the brilliantly sweet (literally) idea of always having a few chocolate gold coins in her handbag to give away to strangers who look like they could do with a little burst of oxytocin. 

She always knew intuitively that “it’s better to give unasked,” but she also knows how valuable it is to share credible proof that, in business as in life, “kindness is a gift that keeps on giving.”

Hence her annual search for 50 Leading Lights who who can inspire as role models and radically challenge the leadership conversation, which has traditionally overlooked the immense impact that kindness has in all areas of business. 

Nominate a leader who embodies the power of kindness

So if you know an established leader or a rising star who embodies these qualities, we’d love you to nominate them for the Kindness & Leadership 50 Leading Lights list.

Debbie Phillips, Head of Campaigns, Corporate Affairs at NatWest Group and WACL Future Leader Award winner, nominated her CEO Alison Rose last year, and told me why:

“As an introvert working in a very extraverted and male dominated environment, kindness is an attribute I really value. Kindness for me is about empathy, listening and putting yourself

in the other person’s shoes. It’s about supporting each other when things don’t go to plan and it’s about being each other’s biggest cheerleader when they do. It’s about having tough conversations quickly and being open when difficult decisions have to be made.” 

Alison is somebody who lifts others as they climb. She has given me countless experiences and

opportunities that I’d never have had otherwise. She is someone who comes to work every day with the sole purpose of making the lives of everyone around her better. I am constantly blown away by her ability to juggle everything that she does and yet care so much about what we do.”

Nominations close on June 7, 2022, and the full list of 50 Leading Lights will be announced on World Kindness Day, November 13, 2022.

This article was previously published in Creative Brief on 29th May 2022

About the author

Lori Meakin
Lori Meakin

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