Leading with kindness

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind. —Henry James

Kindness is an essential component of leadership.

When we think about leadership, kindness is not usually the first word that comes to mind. Nevertheless, several speakers at SLA’s 2015 Leadership Summit mentioned it, leading me to begin writing about it and to the conclusion that kindness is essential to leadership.

Being kind doesn’t mean we have to agree. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask tough questions or push for change. Being kind means treating each other with respect and working toward a goal, not toward a fight.

Of course, we all probably think we treat our colleagues respectfully. By taking a step back, though, I’ve found that my initial reaction to hearing a viewpoint I disagree with or witnessing behavior I don’t like is often more angry than empathetic. Read this blog post from Teacher. Reader. Mom. for some great examples of this in everyday life.

How can we change our reactions? These strategies have helped me:

Try this: when someone does something that irritates or angers you, start from the assumption that his or her intentions are good. See how it changes your view of the situation. You can now separate the irritating action from the person and try to figure out why the person is doing this, and how you can work with him or her.

Try this: start with questions, rather than statements. Make them true open questions, not statements disguised as questions.

For both of these, I found an excellent guide in Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most.

I also found this series of questions (for which I was not able to find the original source) a good reminder:

Before you speak, THINK. Is it


In my own experiences—in my professional life and in my personal relationships—I’ve found that approaching situations with kindness not only gives me a better sense of well-being but contributes to more success.