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Can you lead with kindness in a downturn?

Leadership is a hard-nosed thing, right? Especially in a downturn. If you’re too soft, people will take advantage, won’t strive to hit their targets (aka to please you, in these days of evaporating bonuses) and you won’t be a strong leader, right? Well, it’s not really as simple as that, is it.

Being a ‘hard but fair’ leader, a disciplinarian who keeps on top of people to ensure they do what they are supposed to do, and that they constantly report back to you for a pat on the head and try hard to avoid your temper if they did wrong…It’s all a bit old-fashioned and uninspiring, isn’t it; both for you and the people you lead. Yes, you need some of the elements of a ‘hard but fair leader’ – setting expectations for yourselves and others and ensuring you and others strive for high performance – but all the baggage that goes with it is increasingly outmoded.

If you’re anything like me, you want people to perform to a high level and do the right thing regardless of whether you are there or not, whether you will know about it or not, whether you will shout about it or not. You want them to do it because they are inspired to do it, not because they are afraid of the boss if they don’t do it.

Over on his Leadership Now blog, Michael McKinney re-visits this whole ‘tough leader or kind leader’ thing and says it’s not a case of opposites, not a case of hard or soft leadership. Michael looks at the book LEading With Kindness, to ask if it’s possible and to break the idea that tough/hard/demanding leadership is the opposite of kind/soft/undemanding leadership. Michael says:

Bill Baker and Michael O’Malley have done a service with their book, Leading With Kindness. As awkward as that title might seem at first blush, the authors aren’t suggesting that kind leaders have a soft personality, or are sissies, or are well liked at all times. (“You can be hard-nosed and kind.”) Leading with kindness is not a hot-tub leadership where the participants pass the torch singing Kumbaya. In fact they write, “They muddle through life much like the rest of us, mostly unnoticed except by those around them who are keenly aware that they are in the presence of someone special.”

(That last sentence reminds me that great leaders are not great because they are super-human. Instead, they are ordinary but growth-oriented people with character that have chosen to make a commitment to a bold course of action that is in the best interest of those they serve despite the odds.)

Gets my vote. Click on the blog link, above, to read more. Just because trading conditions get hard, doesn’t mean your leadership style has to.

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