Kindness in Leadership
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Kindness in Leadership

Gay Haskins, Michael Thomas, Lalit Johri, Gay Haskins, Michael Thomas, Lalit Johri

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eBook - ePub

Kindness in Leadership

Gay Haskins, Michael Thomas, Lalit Johri, Gay Haskins, Michael Thomas, Lalit Johri

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About This Book

In a global climate of increasing complexity and uncertainty, there have been calls for a more responsible form of leadership in business and society. The relationship between kindness and leadership is therefore a topic of fundamental importance for our well-being as individuals, for the success of our organisations, and for the future of our global community.

Kindness in Leadership is one of the first books to explore both the concept and practice of kindness in leadership and consider them in different societal and organisational settings. Its uniqueness lies in combining an innovative mix of personal views from leaders with explorations of organisational philosophies and practices. It opens with a definition of kindness and its contours and underpinnings. It then explores the importance of kindness within different organisations, parts of the world, economic strata, age groups and genders, drawing on research on organisational compassion and neuroscience. In order to support learning, each chapter is supported by a series of questions for consideration and discussion.

This will be a stimulating and thought-provoking read for a wide audience of practicing managers and leaders in organisations of all shapes and sizes, for academics involved in educating for leadership, and for students aspiring to develop their own kind and compassionate leadership style.

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Kindness and its many manifestations
Gay Haskins and Mike Thomas
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, Writer, quoted in Edel 1972: 126


Almost every day of our lives, we hear or use, the adjective ‘kind’ or the noun ‘kindness.’ “How very kind!” we say. Or, “That was a real act of kindness.” Or, “He/she is so kind.” Indeed, ‘kind’ is among the top five hundred most frequently used words in the English language ( 2017).
Many philosophers, religious leaders and writers, including the renowned Henry James, extol the virtue of kindness. Yet, when we leave for work in the morning, we do not necessarily feel that our organisations seem to project kindness. At the end of the day, when we return home from work and listen to the evening news, there often seems to be a distinct lack of kindness in the world. Why is this? Might the world be better if organisations and societies were kinder?
This chapter lays the foundation for an understanding of kindness and its many manifestations. In particular, it looks at:
• The origins and definitions of the words ‘kind’ and ‘kindness’;
• The differences and overlaps between compassion, empathy and kindness;
• The importance of kindness in various religions of the world;
• Philosophical viewpoints of kindness;
• How the arts and sciences are advancing on our understanding of kindness;
• Kindness in the world today and the recent emergence of movements around the world to promote kindness;
• The contours of kindness – its many meanings and manifestations.
What we are aiming for is an awareness of what kindness is seen to be about, its religious, philosophical, scientific and artistic importance and how it is demonstrated. ‘Kind’ and ‘kindness’ may seem to be simple words, but we have found them to be rich in meaning. We invite you to read on – and then to reflect on some of the questions at the end of this chapter.

The origins and definitions of the words ‘kind’ and ‘kindness’

Like many English words, the adjective ‘kind’ and the noun ‘kindness’ derive from several sources. One likely origin for the use of kind as an adjective is from early Biblical Hebrew words with meanings of kind, merciful and gracious. In Old English, the noun ‘Cynd’ meant ‘origin, birth, family and race’ (Andreyev 2005): hence the links to ‘Humankind’ and ‘Mankind.’ Both kind and kindness probably also have links with the German word for children (Kinder) and thus a link to nurturing. In Middle English (1300) the noun ‘Kindenes’ was linked to courtesy, noble deeds and kind feelings and thus became linked to benignity and compassion. The development of the adjective ‘kind’ is thought to have moved, during the 1300s, from ‘with natural feelings’ to ‘well-disposed’ and ‘benign, compassionate and full of tenderness’ (
The Cambridge English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster Dictionary provide the following definitions for the adjective ‘kind’, showing that it has several meanings:
• ‘Generous, helpful, and thinking about other people’s feelings.’ (“She’s a very kind and thoughtful person.”)
• ‘Arising from, or characterised by, sympathy or forbearance.’ (“That was a kind act.”)
• ‘Gentle, considerate, forbearing, humane.’ (“They are kind to animals.”)
• ‘Mild, clement, giving relief, not causing harm or damage.’(“This soap is kind to the skin.”)
For ‘kindness,’ in the same dictionaries, we find two definitions:
• Kindness: The practice or quality of being kind. (“She treated people with kindness.”)
• Kindness: A kind, considerate or helpful act or deed. (“They did me a great kindness.”)
Kindness, therefore, can be a quality and/or an act. Both ‘kind’ and ‘kindness’ are accepted as having a ‘good’ value and are a positive indication of a person’s characteristics, feelings and thoughts, as well as their observed behaviours.
Synonyms for kindness abound. The Oxford Paperback Thesaurus (2001: 490) has 26: affection; altruism; big-heartedness; benevolence; benignity; care; charitableness; compassion; concern; consideration; considerateness; decency; friendliness; generosity; gentleness; helpfulness; hospitality; kind-heartedness; magnanimity; selflessness; sympathy; thoughtfulness; understanding; unselfishness; warm-heartedness; warmth.

Kindness in translation

Is the concept of kindness shared in other nations and cultures? Does the English word “kindness” translate into other languages and how do their words for “kindness” translate into English? What are some examples? Is there one word, or several? For those languages that have genders, is the word masculine, feminine or neuter?
We looked at a number of languages and could not find any that had just one single word for kindness, as in English. This may be due to the fact that the English word kindness can be both a quality and/or an act. In Mandarin, for instance, the quality of being kind is 善良 (shanliang) and a kind action is 好意 (haoyi). Spanish also has two different words, both of which are feminine: ‘amabilidad,’ which translates as kindness in the sense of amiability and courtesy and ‘bondad,’ which can mean both good nature and an act of kindness. ‘Un simple acto de bondad’ translates as ‘a simple act of kindness.’ French has a number of translations for kindness, all feminine in gender: ‘la gentillesse,’ for kindness in the sense of amiability; ‘la bonté’ for kindness in the sense of goodness; ‘la bienveillance’ for kindness in the sense of benevolence; and ‘un acte de gentillesse’ for an act of kindness.
As in French and Spanish, in most languages with genders, kindness tends to be a feminine word. It has a tendency, as a result, to be considered as a feminine quality.

Empathy, compassion and kindness

Despite the frequent everyday usage of ‘kind’ and ‘kindness,’ it is the words ‘empathy’ and ‘compassion’ which dominate in the bookstores and in the management literature. Both are closely related to kindness. Since we will use them frequently, and at times interchangeably with kindness in this book, let us look at how they are typically defined.
• Compassion: the English word ‘compassion’ derives from Old French (‘compassion’) and Late Latin (‘compassionem’) which translate as ‘sympathy’ and ‘to feel pity with.’ Of compassion, Professor of Psychology Paul Gilbert writes, “Compassion is a basic kindness, with a deep awareness of the suffering of oneself and of other living things, coupled with the wish to relieve it” (Gilbert 2009: xiii).
Empathy: the English word ‘empathy’ is derived from the Ancient Greek word ‘empatheia’ meaning physical affection or passion. Empathy is defined as “the art of stepping imaginatively into the shoes of another person, understanding their feelings and perspectives, and using that understanding to guide your actions…empathy is distinct from expressions of sympathy – such as pity or feeling sorry for somebody – as these do not involve trying to understand the other person’s emotions or point of view” (Krznaric 2014: x).
It should be noted, however, that it is not universally agreed that empathy is always kind. Psychologist Paul Bloom’s book, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion (2017), argues that the ability to intuit another’s feelings might well be an aid for some dubious moral behaviour. In a review of his book, Sally Vickers wrote: “The mirroring of another’s anguish is not, Bloom would claim, the principal source of kindness, a quality that he is supremely in favour of” (Vickers 2017). In The Empathy Instinct, which came out at the same time, Sir Peter Bazalgette wrote that “Empathy does not necessarily lead to sympathy or compassionate action but it really is possible to improve our society by harnessing the extraordinary positive force of empathy.” It is the positive force of empathy that we will focus on in this book. We therefore see positive empathy as a pathway to acts of kindness.

Kindness in religion

The idea of kindness having a positive effect on humanity is conveyed throughout religious thinking. All religions (including, among others, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism and Taoism) have similar approaches and shared concepts to the application of kindness. They can be generally summarised as wishing/doing unto others what one would wish/do for oneself (Wilson 1991; Goodwin 2011). But there are differences too.
• In Buddhism, kindness is recognised as “behaviours towards oneself and others through everyday interaction which develop and maintain wellness” (Dalai Lama 2007, Chapter 7).
• Both Buddhism and Hinduism emphasise the concept of ‘loving kindness.’ For Hindus, loving kindness is one of the most prominent qualities of the gods found in the Rigveda. Their speech is kind, they perpetuate kindness and their kindness reaches all.
• In the Holy Bible (2006 version), Christians are exhorted to share wealth and resources for the benefit of the community (Acts: 4.33) whilst the Old Testament states that community members are expected to be kind and tolerant of each other and share their knowledge (Hebrews: 13.9). They are also told to: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians: 4.32).
• The Koran (1956) cites compassion in the Exordium: “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful” and within the Muslim faith, leadership is closely aligned to kindness that can be shown through consistency in judgement, forgiveness, upholding community standards and practising moral behaviours (Thomas & Rowland 2013).
In all these religions, kindness is both a virtue and a practical act, a behavioural as well as a cognitive or emotional response to others.

Kindness in philosophy

The world’s great philosophers have also discussed and written a great deal about kindness and some had a big influence on religion. Chinese philosophy, for instance, bases its thinking about kindness on the work of the great Chinese teacher, philosopher and politician, Confucius (c.551–479BC). Confucius was interested in both personal and governmental morality and his work transcribed in the Analects as a series of Confucianism aphorisms many years after his death. His Golden Rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” has inspired many faiths.
Confucius based his philosophy on two ethical premises, ‘Li’ and ‘Yi.’ ‘Li’ refers to ethical judgements, in doing the right thing at the right time and being pragmatic, adapting when necessary, whilst ‘Yi’ examines reciprocity, doing the right thing for the right reason and working towards the greater good. The moral ethics also contain five core values or basic virtues called ‘Ren.’ They are seriousness, generosity, sincerity, diligence and kindness. Ren is all-encompassing and includes the attributes of benevolence, humanity and goodness. In its achievement, the virtue is seen as an individual consistently fulfilling care and responsibilities towards others. Confucius saw human beings as intrinsically good and he summarised Ren as to ‘love others’ (Rainey 2012).
The Indian philosophical tradition originated even earlier – some 1,000 years BC. In a 21st century study, Rajendra Prasad emphasises the classical Indian philosophy of differentiating between feelings of kindness (compassion), and the acts or virtue of kindness. This is an important distinction in the difference between the emotional state of being kind and the behavioural action of applying kindness. It suggests that if kindness is not an attitude but instead is episodic, then being kind is not a virtue. As Prasad states, virtually everyone will experience the feeling of compassion at some time in their lives but that does not make them a kind person. Rather, kindness as a virtue is the cultivation of the disposition to feel kind in appropriate situations or ‘dayabhava karunapravanata,’ the attitude to frequently and commonly feel kindness towards others (Prasad 2008). This is an important point in Indian philosophy; a virtue is by definition self-explanatory. For example, a person cannot meet parts of a virtue, there is no average or a continuum of a virtue. A virtue is a complete value, achieved or not achieved and so being kind just once is not virtuous. Rather, its constancy and predictability is a demonstration of a kind virtue.
Every virtue, ‘samanya dharma’ (virtue that can be deemed as having worth), is a disposition or attitudinal trait towards a specific type of feeling which activates, or makes more likely, the behaviour that is prompted by the feeling itself. Buddhists would call such virtues the motivation to work for others, which must first come from this feeling of compassion. Developing a kind disposition is therefore qualitatively different to merely experiencing episodic kindness events. Kindness can be learnt, nurtured and developed so it becomes a commonly enacted facet of one’s own life (Prasad 2008).
The Greek philosopher Aristotle (c.300BC) also described kindness as a virtue under the influence of which a man is said to “be kind”, and which may be defined as helpfulness towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the ...

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