OPINION

Challenge is to find the courage to be kind

Helping hand: Showing empathy should be an attribute of good leadership.
Helping hand: Showing empathy should be an attribute of good leadership.

Who decided that kindness was a sign of weakness?

Psychologists tell us that kindness is often perceived as a weakness because those who display compassion, generosity and an awareness of the experience of others all open the other party up to being taken advantage of.

While those displaying curtness, rudeness, and a ruthless unwillingness to "waste" time helping others for no gain, are often perceived as tough, strong, even socially intriguing or admirable.

In job advertisements we rarely see a requirement for kindness and compassion, and yet how many roles in our communities need it? I can't tell you how many times I've seen criteria requiring candidates to be "resilient" or have "outstanding conflict resolution skills," without any mention of a need to demonstrate empathy, which is a key requirement of both of these criteria.

I am relieved to see a slow shift towards seeking out what are now called "professional skills" or "employability skills" such as leadership, teamwork, flexibility, interpersonal skills, work ethic, etc., but we are still framing them within a measurable context that focuses purely on outcomes and achievements.

In career development, everything needs to have a value, a benefit, a productive outcome, in order to contextualise it. It's all about the metrics: quantify or die. If you are a leader, then how many people are in your team? How many projects have you overseen? What is their dollar value? Did you deliver on time? These are important questions, but they aren't the only ones we need to be asking.

This is where the all-important question, how? comes into play. How did you lead your team? Did you lead from the front and direct the work, leading by example? Perhaps you delegated and empowered your staff to take on increased responsibility and accountability?

This is where important attributes come into the equation, attributes like kindness, generosity, compassion and empathy. This is where you can demonstrate that didn't get to where you are today by stepping on everyone else along the way.

People often believe that if they show kindness in the way they lead their team, if they show empathy in approving leave, understanding regarding family commitments or kindness in understanding staff stress, others will walk all over them.

Carrie Kerpen has written that being a kind leader isn't about not firing anybody when there's cause, that you don't (or can't) make the tough decisions or that your team won't have to work as hard.

She argues that kindness in leadership is about being aware of how you deliver your message, not just what the message is. It's about ensuring that your staff know where they stand, are given credit where credit's due, given opportunities to enhance their performance and skill development, and managing expectations.

The need for more kindness in the world is well-established. In 1998, World Kindness Day was founded by the World Kindness Movement, which is a coalition of nations' kindness NGOs. Yep. We have kindness NGOs. The purpose of this day is to highlight good deeds in the community with a focus on highlighting the thread of kindness that underpins these acts and binds us all across cultural, religious, race and socio-economic barriers.

In the midst of the bushfire crisis we are currently facing in Australia, it can feel overwhelming to realise the acts of kindness being undertaken, from a small boy making koalas out of Sculpey to fundraise, to celebrities and big corporations collectively donating millions.

However, these bushfires have also highlighted how close to homelessness many of us are - many of us are one unforeseen crisis away from finding ourselves in severe hardship. Now more than ever, the need to show kindness to each other is palpable.

Sometimes, showing kindness to others takes great strength and courage, especially when we are living in a world where we seem to value money and power over the wellbeing of others and where "trolls" actually exist, and whose main purpose is to cause harm and hurt to others.

Now more than ever, the need to show kindness to each other is palpable.

It's easy to show cruelty and judgement when our role models do so. It is much harder and requires much greater strength to show others kindness and empathy despite public discourse. I challenge you to find the courage to be kind.

"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." - Aesop

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers writer, counsellor and coach.