November 13 was World Kindness Day. The various posts about kindness reminded me that kindness is an essential leadership quality.

Leaders often push back at the idea that kindness matters. They say, “I don’t have to be kind. I’m not their best friend!” True, we definitely should not be an employee’s best friend.

However, we don’t have to be someone’s friend to be kind to them. Holding high standards for someone while being respectful is expecting excellence while showing kindness.

Parenting is a good example. As children grow up, parents maintain high expectations and standards for them. There are consequences if the children don’t live up to those standards. The parents aren’t helping the children by letting them get away with less than their best. Parents deeply want their children to be successful.

That’s the same perspective we want to have with employees. We care about them and their success, so we set clear expectations and standards. Then we hold them to those standards. Being kind doesn’t make us a pushover.

Sometimes it helps to imagine how we would want someone to talk to us about one of our mistakes or less-than-perfect performance. Would we respond best to someone intent on making us feel bad about our poor performance?

We would not. Shaming can be an effective short-term motivator, but it doesn’t inspire ongoing excellence. We want our employees to be successful. Our success as leaders depends on the success of the people who work with us.

One of our primary goals as leaders is to create positive relationships and create personal influence. Both of those things are really impossible to create unless we are kind to people.

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