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Can you lead successfully with kindness?

There’s no better way to unlock everyone’s potential, create a high-functioning team and meet business goals

I had a really interesting conversation about kindness and the possible meltdown of nuclear power plants, while I was speaking at an event in Paris. I was speaking with Marc, an entrepreneurial engineer who runs a company that troubleshoots the toughest, most critical and highly dangerous situations in the nuclear power industry. When we analysed his leadership style, it was clear that a big part of it was creating a culture of kindness within his business. So what does a kind culture look like?

It means you consistently treat and relate to your team in a certain way. You empower them, make sure that everyone is valued and, most importantly, you treat any of their actions and decisions through the lens of open kindness. As in you don’t judge or make people feel wrong, isolate anyone or play games, and at all times you’re compassionate and considerate while recognising that everyone is doing their best but can make mistakes.

When the proverbial hits the fan, and you’re called into a super-critical situation when your actions have to be fast, your leadership style is strong and directive and you make sure everyone is contributing and playing their top game. Then your kind culture starts to pay off. Everyone can put their best ideas forward without fear of being judged and the team fully supports each other at the level they need to within an emergency; not because they have to but because that’s normal. Although Marc is a brilliant engineer and creative problem solver, he said it's actually the team that willingly feeds him the solutions.

Within his kind culture he can demand speed, bark orders and be as forceful as he likes, and everyone is OK with that style of leadership. They know through past experience that no idea would be considered stupid or be instantly dismissed. That’s what makes the difference, as this is where mission-critical solutions come from. Then when the crisis is over and the danger averted the kind culture returns, they debrief, and then all settle back down to business as usual until the next call.

So is there room for kindness in business? Absolutely. There’s no better way to unlock everyone’s potential, create a high-functioning team and meet business goals. Kindness can sometimes be a tough choice but at this time of great change and opportunity it is a powerful tool and way to run a business. It just takes courage.

I've worked with a range of entrepreneurial companies, individuals, organisations, and leadership teams in large corporations through to NHS hospitals, educational institutions, international governments and the United Nations. And from what I've seen, no matter your size, sector or purpose, a little bit of kindness goes a long way.

Nicholas Haines is founder of the profiling consultancy the Five Institute