The kindness continuum: Become a better leader one action at a time

Photo by Edward Howell on Unsplash

Do you consider yourself an empathic and kind manager?

— You may answer YES but it can be wrong due to the Dunning-Kruger effect ( the cognitive bias whereby people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability)

— You may answer NO but it can also be wrong due to Imposter syndrome (a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills and fear of being exposed as a fraud).

So What’s the correct answer? Actually, it’s a trick question. The correct answer is that you lie somewhere on the kindness continuum between the least kind and most kind leader on the planet earth.

Where exactly do you lie on the kindness continuum?

Let’s consider a few examples

  1. A manager who has genuine empathy for all team members. When he or she discusses your career or performance with you, you feel organic goodwill in it. You always feel safe working with him. The progress of his subordinates is equally important or even more important for him than his own. One that always listens to the team and welcomes differences of opinion. He treats every team member as a unique individual with their own set of needs, strengths and weaknesses.
  2. A manager who doesn’t have organic empathy but wants to be a good manager. You feel safe with him most of the time but you also feel a suspicion that it will not be the same if the chips go down. His own growth matters most to him but he knows that it’s not possible without the growth of his team members.
  3. A manager who neither has genuine empathy nor considers it important enough to work on it. It’s not a required trait for him as a manager. He just handles all his resources systematically and doesn’t like differences of opinion. Key decisions are taken as per the benefit of the manager no matter how deeply it impacts the team. The team doesn’t feel safe as each and every mistake is noted and punished.

All these managers lie on different parts of the kindness continuum. Statistically, you fall in category 2. As you are reading this blog about better leadership it means you want to progress towards category 1.

How to improve

Stephen Covey puts a very interesting perspective in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Love is a verb. Love — the feeling — is a fruit of love the verb.
In the great literature of all progressive societies, love is a verb. Reactive people make it a feeling. … Love is something you do: the sacrifices you make, the giving of self, like a mother bringing a newborn into the world.

The same principle applies to kindness and empathy as well. Your actions speak louder than your feelings. Eventually, your conscious efforts and actions will generate a genuine feeling of empathy in you.

Every single act of kindness will create more kindness inside you and you’ll continue to take care of your team members. Ultimately your actions will become your nature and identity. This is a psychological phenomenon.

It’s called the Ben Franklin Effect. A person who has already performed a favor for another person is more likely to do another favor for the other than if they had received a favor from that person.

Being Empathetic feels difficult

Our workplaces are very competitive, just like a zero-sum game where there’s a limited amount of credit and recognition available. In this environment practicing empathy requires the sacrifice of time, attention and other resources. You have to put aside your ego and feelings. It will be a conscious and continuous effort to sustain and improve the empathy within yourself. It’s a long-term investment. It needs patience, grit and character.

Identifying yourself as a kind or unkind manager also becomes a blocker on the path of progress. If a person thinks he’s kind and empathic then it can create a loss of motivation for further improvement. Similarly, if a person thinks that he’s not empathic and kind then he’ll assume that this is how it is and can’t be changed. This person will make no effort to improve. This article aims to prevent typical managers from getting demotivated towards progress. Empathy and kindness can be practiced and improved.

So Is it worth it?

YES, It’s a must-have for a manager. Care and kindness make you better as a person. Without them, you are an incomplete manager and an incomplete human being. Practicing these will be fulfilling and rewarding for you.

Empathy is not a favor for your subordinates. Your productivity is the sum of the productivity of all your subordinates. If you don’t make conscious efforts to make your team feel safe, they’ll productivity will not increase.

So whenever you perform an act of kindness for your team members without the organic urge within yourself to do so, don’t assume that you are a faker. Actually, you want to become an empathetic person and this act is bringing you closer to your goal. So keep doing it and keep moving forward.

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Najmus Saqib

Najmus Saqib

Senior Software Architect/Manager @ Cloudways, Working on distributed web apps and Site Reliability Engineering. Oscillating on the engineer/manager pendulum