- December 6, 2019
- Posted by: Alyson Van Hooser
- Category: Leadership, Leadership Characteristics
When it comes to successful leadership, there are people who believe kindness equals weakness. So in order to be perceived as strong, some leaders are choosing to be forceful, extreme, or brutal in hopes to earn their seat at the table. Does that approach work? Let’s talk…
“Kindness Equals Weakness” is a Leadership Lie
I recently posted a blog titled: “Be An Attractive Woman In Business”. The main point of the blog was the huge value of kindness for increasing leadership influence. I had a comment on the vlog version of the post from a fellow woman in business I highly respect. She said, “The tough thing with women, in my experience, is that kindness can sometimes be taken as weakness in business. I’d love to hear more about how women can overcome ingrained biases that equate kindness with “softness” and that assume caring doesn’t mean strength.”
This is not the first time I have been asked a question such as this so I wanted to share my response with you in case you’ve wondered the same thing, too.
Initial Thoughts on the Perception
First, her point that kindness can sometimes be perceived as weakness is legit. Some people do have that perception.
Secondly, kindness equals weakness is a leadership lie. It’s not kindness that makes a leader seem weak. Instead, it’s when a leader gives second chances that aren’t earned or doesn’t stand their ground when they should, that they seem weak–because the inability to make decisions correctly is a sign of a weak leader. Kindness equals weakness is a leadership lie because you have to actually separate the attitude from the action in order to get to the root cause of this incorrect perception.
Third, I believe leadership in the 21st century is exposing that lie in a massive way. People are craving leaders with a servant’s heart. Servant leaders are extremely successful in today’s workforce. Service comes from a kind place. Put those things together and it’s safe to say that kindness equals leadership strength.
In today’s blog, I’m giving you more to think about on this subject. My hope is that if you are handling yourself and situations with others in a way that is not kind — for fear that you may seem weak — that after some careful thought, you would change your mind and your actions. I am confident you’ll be more successful in gaining positive leadership influence if you do!
No one wants to be perceived as a weak leader. So, let’s start with defining the opposite of weak — strong.
Defining Strong Leadership
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary has 16 different ways to define strong. Let’s go with the top 2:
- having or marked by great physical power
- having moral or intellectual power
I would agree that describing strong business leaders could partially mean they have great physical power, intellectual power, and great talent. However, those things alone do not fully describe the strong leaders I know personally, so let’s dig in deeper.
The word power shows up multiple times in the definition of the word strong. Merriam-Webster’s definition of power is:
- an ability to act or produce and effect
- possession of control, authority, or influence over others
So, to get what I believe to be a full picture of strong leadership… let’s put the definitions of both “strong” and “power” together: a person with moral or intellectual influence over others.
Going with my definition of strong leadership here (a person with moral or intellectual influence over others), I want to ask you a question.
Have you had a leader in your life who made a direct, positive impact on you personally or professionally that was not kind to you in one way or another? Maybe they gave you an opportunity, taught you something or helped you through a rough time?
I believe it’s safe to assume that most of your answers will be YES!
That’s why “kindness equals weakness” is a leadership lie.
There is no arguing with the results. Strong leaders have positive results. Weak leaders have problem-filled results.
2 Types of Strong
You can be strong in a good way or you can be strong in a bad way. Going back to the 16 definitions of the word strong from Merriam-Webster dictionary…you can have a strong stomach and you can have strong breath. One is good, one is very bad!
You have to define which type of “strong” you want to be. Bad strong leaders may win a fight, but I believe in the end, good strong leaders win the war.
Leaders who try to grow their influence through forceful, manipulative tactics such as threats, yelling, public humiliation, and more may be perceived as strong in their approach, but they are not strong leaders. Yes, they may achieve some measure of success but they have stepped on the hearts and lives of people to get there. At the end of the day, that person isn’t respected and admired for their successful leadership results. Again, they may have won the battle, but they will not win the war. In the end, they lost trust, respect, and credibility…all of which are essential elements to a sustainable, successful leadership journey.
On the other hand, leaders who treat people with kindness, communicate appropriately, plan for the future, remain emotionally controlled, and consistently perform at their best — those will be the leaders who will create a strong leadership legacy of positive results for years and decades to come. When you’re planning your approach to leadership success, that’s the kind of “strong” leadership that lasts.
If someone perceives you as weak because you are kind…wait it out. That perception of leadership is a losing game. Those who are kind are playing the long game — and playing it to win!
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Kindness Doesn’t Mean Pleasant
Let me be really clear with you though, kindness doesn’t mean that everything is all roses all the time. Instead, kindness means that even when working through difficult situations, you choose honesty, respect, professionalism, generosity, and you are considerate of the full situation.
There will be times as a leader you have to confront someone in a difficult situation. One example might be addressing an employee’s poor performance.
Some leaders may publicly humiliate the employee. They may choose to use manipulative tactics to change employee performance. They may berate an employee to the point they completely destroy any ounce of positivity in their relationship. Doing any or all of those things may make a leader feel strong, but I can tell you confidently that their leadership is weak. Soon enough, their leadership results decline so rapidly that instead of looking or feeling strong, they may be looking for a new place to lead.
Then there are the leaders who are doing it right. Kind leaders face difficult situations head-on. They address issues privately, ask questions instead of assuming, make the hard decisions with appropriate reasoning, and communicate with honesty and empathy.
You can be kind and not be a pushover.
Leaders In Your Life
Finally, think about the leaders you’ve had in your own life…the one’s who made a really positive impact on you. Did they show empathy, excitement about your work, and a genuine interest in your personal and professional growth? I feel certain you said yes to at least one of those things. Would you also describe them as kind? Probably yes, too. Would you describe them as weak? Doubtful.
(Do you have women in your workforce that would benefit from leadership training? Let’s talk about some options.)
You see, most often we think kindness equals weakness because we think that’s what other people will think about us. But, you don’t think that about the great leaders in your life, right? Regardless of how pop-culture can make us feel sometimes, we are all more alike than we are different. Choose to be a kind leader. Kindness increases your influence with people. You will be more successful with that approach. Your leadership legacy will be strong, not weak, because of it.
When you are kind, you will increase your influence.
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