The Kind Modern Leader
There’s a popular meme about the difference between East Coast people and West Coast people and nice versus kind. It explains how West Coast people are nice but not kind, and East Coast people are kind but not nice.
E.g., if you get a flat tire on the West Coast, you’ll receive lots of sympathy from others as they pass by. “Oh, that’s such a shame. I hope it all works out.” Whereas on the East Coast, a passerby will roast you for your ignorance and stupidity while they change the tire for you.
The example is extreme, but if you’ve spent time on the two coasts, you can probably attest to the spirit. Your region of the country or world probably has similar distinctions. Most would agree that kindness, even if not delivered in a palatable way, is “better” than niceness. Kindness is less superficial and makes you feel warmer and more grateful. It engages humanity.
Another silly meme making the rounds attempts to pit nice leaders against strong leaders. The supposed argument is those nice leaders are soft, vulnerable, comforting, and safe, while strong leaders are decisive, confident, and brash risk-takers, and the world needs that kind of authority to lead us through the problems we face. The meme is an elaborate way for those with an ill-conceived understanding of servant leadership to throw shade in favor of authoritarian leaders.
A couple of things.
- Spare me. The world neither needs nor thrives with authoritarian leaders.
- It is lost on some that being nice is a strength. Niceness and strength are not the adversaries that some purport.
A fast-thinking commanding presence is often welcome, which is why knowing various leadership styles and when and how to deploy each type gives the modern leader an advantage.
Let’s take a realistic approach toward the generic and loosely defined labels of “strong” and “kind.” The opposite of strong is weak; the opposite of kindness for this exercise would be meanness or being a jerk. Now we have something more helpful with which to work.
- A leader who behaves like a jerk and whose actions are weak is miscast; they are not a leader.
- A leader who acts with kindness and whose actions are weak is likable but ineffective.
- A leader who behaves like a jerk and whose actions are strong can be characterized by most as a lousy leader. Some desire autocrats, but it bodes poorly for any long-term success.
- A leader who behaves with kindness and whose actions are strong is effective and ideal.
Quibble all you want, as leadership has nuance, and the current environment, the needs of the times, and the consensus of others primarily dictate its effectiveness. Modern leaders must have kindness in their repertoire of skills if they hope to lead in the future.
Afraid to Lead
I come across a lot of capable people who are afraid to lead. Often they are blind to the fact that they are already leading. They are already well on their way by having a vision, acting upon it, and gathering resources to help fulfill their goal.
It starts with self-leadership. Those who skip this step soon meet a reckoning and correction that requires attention.
Then there is leading another individual. All successful partnerships are a dance between who leads, who follows, and when.
There is also team and organizational leadership. Moreover, there is governance. You don’t have to take on these advanced roles to be a leader. You are already a leader in your family, among friends, or in a volunteer group or committee.
Study leadership. Get better at leading and following. Leadership is everywhere. When you get the chance to lead, take it seriously and do it well.
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