Can Kindness Make You a Better Boss?

The answer is, unequivocally, “yes.” Data abounds to show that kindness works at work, and here’s why.

Did you know that emotions are contagious? They flow from the most powerful person in the room. So, if you are the boss, that’s probably you! If you want a productive and happy workplace, then you must create it.

Kind bosses have been shown to increase morale, decrease absenteeism and retain employees longer. Kind bosses may even prolong the lives of their employees by decreasing their stress levels which improve cardiovascular health.

Human brains (as well as the brains of other primates) have cells called mirror neurons. Mirror neurons do exactly what their name implies, and they go a long way to explain much of human behavior. Mirror neurons fire both when a person performs an action and when they observe an action being performed by another.

Kindness, It’s Not That Tough to Do

So when the boss enters the room with a big smile and says, “Happy Monday, everyone!”, he or she will see smiles all around. Alternatively, if you are in a low mood, you’ll bring others down with you. You may have noticed then when you see a commercial for someone eating delicious looking food, you feel hungry and when they’re drinking a coke…need I say more?

When you see someone injured, your mirror neurons for pain get triggered and you feel empathy. For most of us, working out in a group is much easier than exercising alone. You can thank your mirror neurons for that.

As you can see, mirror neurons come into play throughout our day. By understanding how your brain works and how you are impacting others, you can choose behaviors to positively impact those around you both at work and in your personal life. So if you want to create a kind workplace, it’s just this simple. Be kind. Say kind things. Do kind acts.

Being kind doesn’t mean you have to be a pushover. To the contrary! To quote my esteemed colleague, David Loewenstein, Ph.D., “I am a marshmallow on the outside with a backbone of steel.”

So treat your employees with kindness, but at the same time let them know you have high expectations. As, a leader, you must consistently have that backbone. It should be composed of integrity, honesty, and a clear vision for your company.

How can companies help build leaders?

Adam Grant, Ph.D. at the Wharton School of Business in his groundbreaking book, Give and Take, shows how companies can win across many metrics by hiring and supporting more employees who are givers (as opposed to takers).



Harvard Business School’s Amy Cuddy and her research partners have also shown that leaders who project warmth – even before establishing their competence – are more effective than those who lead with their toughness and skill. As a result, the employees feel more loyal and committed and are more likely to go out of their way to be helpful and friendly to other employees.

Research on “paying it forward” shows that when you work with people who help you, you will be more likely to help others (and not necessarily just those who helped you).

Jonathan Haidt, Ph.D. at New York University Stern School of Business shows in his research that when leaders are self-sacrificing, their employees experience being moved and inspired. This phenomenon, Dr. Haidt calls “moral elevation” and it is triggered by viewing acts of uncommon goodness.

What does kindness look like for a leader?

So just what does kindness look like for a leader?

  • Greet employees in a positive way.
  • Praise good work.
  • Pay attention to team morale and work to enhance it.
  • Focus more on solving problems than on who or what’s to blame.
  • Treat everyone with respect.
  • Care for and be interested in employees’ daily lives.
  • Show compassion and concern when employees are struggling.
  • Use and encourage open, honest and direct communication.

In short, kindness works. I hope I have inspired you to try it.

If you’d like to check out Dr. Ritvo’s latest book for a deep dive you can find it here:

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