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Good Leadership Is an Act of Kindness

Good Leadership Is an act of kindness, and kindness can be an act of good leadership.

Written by: Boris Groysberg and Susan Seligson

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

As a professor of business administration in the Organizational Behavior Unit at the Harvard Business School, I teach courses in leadership in the MBA and Executive Education programs. With the COVID-19 pandemic transforming our lives at every level, a growing number of students and former students have sought my advice about how to lead in a time of great uncertainty and unprecedented employee stress.

The stories these executives tell attest to the fact that these are the most difficult times in memory for many, if not most people. Parents struggle to balance the demands of remote work and homeschooling. Employees who live alone strain to stay focused while isolated from loved ones and traditional social supports. In between Zoom meetings, caretakers exhaust themselves attending to a special needs child or ailing parent. Everyone frets over their physical and financial well-being. Who among us isn’t anxious, stressed out, and off our game right now?

From bolstering remote collaboration to scheduling meetings upon meetings, the business press and bloggers are buzzing with guidance about ways to sustain employee engagement and productivity in the chaos of a pandemic. Unfortunately, most Management 101 advice does not recognize that in times like these, the manager’s toolkit must expand in ways we haven’t seen before.

I believe that a powerful, fundamental leadership strategy is being largely overlooked. It is, in fact, the most innately human one: Be kind.

According to a recent Gallup survey, less than half of employees (45 percent) feel strongly that their employer cares about their well-being. Many realize that this needs to change. Practicing active, habitual kindness can transform the remote workplace and it can start today. A little reassurance, compassionate listening, a conscious effort to validate people’s fear and confusion all go a long way.

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