"What's the most important quality in a leader?"

In a recent Him For Her dinner I attended, this was one of the ice breaker questions our host asked us to use when introducing ourselves to the other guests at the table.

The answers were widely varied: curiosity, valuing people who are different from them, authenticity, long term thinkers, being gifted with making things simple...

But what really is the most important quality in a leader?

How about kindness. When did we all forget about kindness? When did we stop valuing kindness?

I would argue that kindness is one of the most undervalued leadership qualities in our world today.

When did we decide kindness was not an essential trait of a great leader? When did we stop being kind as leaders? I'll tell you when...

When we rewarded leaders for their great results and consistently overlooked their unkind behavior. When we decided kindness was a synonym for pushover, weakness, inefficiency, and softness. When we decided we were too busy to be kind. We have a business to run after all, so what has kindness got to do with any of it?

Kind people don't get shit done. Mean people, who rule with fear and have a Game of Thrones style management (as Adam Neumann of WeWork was described recently in an article in Fast Company) are the ones who really drive results. And results are what shareholders value.

So we devalue kindness.

The question is, can women even afford to be a kind leader? I walk the line, the careful dance of being too nice or too witchy. Of being too trusting or too controlling. Of being too compassionate and being the ice queen/dragon lady/the Devil wearing Prada. (Disclaimer: I don't actually own any Prada clothing, but it does have a nice ring to it.)

The question I would instead ask is, how can we afford not to be kind?

In case you didn't get the memo, people don't stay at a job for the endless supply of KIND Bars, free caffeine, and access to weekly discounted massages. The vast majority of people stay to work for kind people.

I can lead with kindness. I can be tough and fair. I can have high standards and expectations for my team and those around me.

And I don't have to kick people when they are down. I don't have to make feel people worse than they already do about the mistakes they have made. I don't have to use foul language, threaten, or manipulate. I don't have to rule with fear. I don't have to be unkind to drive results. I just don't. And it's not how I want to lead. I will not be an unkind leader.

We all have our moments. I am not always the kindest version of myself all the time. That's just not possible—I am human after all. But I do try to think about how I can lead with more kindness, compassion, and generosity. How can I show up as a kinder leader?

Kindness comes in all different forms. It's the free smile, the free hello, and the free wave. It's treating people with generosity, empathy, and care. It's about asking people how they are doing and taking a few minutes to actually listen to the response before walking off. It's about bringing humanity back to our workspaces and workplaces.

So please don't mistake my kindness for weakness.

Being kind is my greatest strength—our collective greatest strength—in leadership. This is how we should all want to lead to create a real impact for ourselves and our organizations.

And in the words of Maya Angelou, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget about how you made them feel."


Mita Mallick