Leading with heart: 5 reasons kind leaders are the strongest

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There is a general misconception that those who forgive, who are kind, or who give to others, are weak — especially when it comes to corporate leaders.

Leading with heart: 5 reasons kind leaders are the strongest

There is a general misconception that those who forgive, who are kind, or who give to others, are weak — especially when it comes to corporate leaders.

In fact, when we think of the word leader — particularly in a corporate sense — the words powerful, assertive, and control come to mind. Conversely, when we think of kindness, words like heart, gentle, and happy come to mind.

How can a leader be powerful and assertive while also being gentle and kind?

Recently, entrepreneur and motivator Marie Forleo received the following confession from a new CEO of a tech start-up on her show, MarieTV:

“I’m a kind and positive person . . . I love this about myself, but I’ve experienced these two traits being viewed as weaknesses. I think people equate positivity with being naïve . . . and walking into the cutthroat tech world, I suspect these traits will again be seen as liabilities.”

After all, kindness and leadership couldn’t possibly go hand in hand, right?

Wrong. In her response to the CEO, Marie lays down some important corporate truth that many companies are beginning to pay attention to.

“The future of business is about being more connected to your humanity, not less,” Marie says. “And that includes your positivity, kindness, your enthusiasm, your vulnerability, and most importantly, your heart.”

So what does this actually look like in leadership, and why does it matter?

Jeff Freeman, senior vice president of culture and engagement at CompHealth, is a strong proponent of leading with kindness in the workplace.

“Kind most definitely does not mean weak,” says Jeff, who has spent over 10 years in various senior leadership positions at the healthcare staffing company. “At CompHealth, we are consistent, intentional, and we don’t shy away from difficult situations. All of this stems from caring about our people.”

Because of this focus, CompHealth (under its parent company, CHG Healthcare) has made Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list eight years in a row, and has routinely placed on top of prestigious lists like People Magazine’s Companies That Care, Modern Healthcare’s Best Places to Work, Staffing Industry Analysts’ Best Staffing Firms to Work For, and more.

As a result? CompHealth’s employees are happy and engaged. This then boosts the quality of the company’s customer service, which then grows CompHealth’s customer base and, therefore, its business. But all of this growth starts by being kind in the workplace.

In the points below, Jeff explains exactly how kindness-focused leadership makes such a strong (not weak) difference within the walls of CompHealth.

  1. Kind leaders live their company’s values

    “Most companies have core values,” says Jeff, “but what sets CompHealth apart is that we actually live ours. For us, they’re not just words on a wall. They’re a crucial part of our culture that we show through our conversations and actions every day.”

    In other words, Jeff and his peer leaders believe in their core values and prove them through their actions every day. For CompHealth, the value of putting people first is at the center of those actions.

    Like Jeff says, putting people first is not simply brought up in training and then dropped once employees are on the floor. In all that Jeff and other CompHealth leaders do, they put the needs of others before their own, whether that means listening to an employee when he or she is struggling (either professionally or personally), or volunteering alongside employees at a local food bank.

    This unwavering commitment to core values shows leaders as solid rocks. No matter the situation, they will always respond, act, and lead in the same light.

    “People like to be there for others,” Jeff says. “It makes you feel good. If you can bring that emotion into the workplace, it makes a huge difference.”

  2. Kind leaders don’t avoid difficult conversations

    It may be hard to believe that having high expectations for others (and, therefore, difficult conversations with them) is part of being kind, but it’s true.

    “Because we’re such a kind company, we have tougher conversations,” Jeff says. “There’s not this risk of, gosh, I can’t give this person feedback or else they’ll retaliate. I’m giving feedback because I care about this person. If I don’t say anything — if I’m playing some sort of political game — that’s being unkind.”

    Jeff recalls having to let a former employee go because he was unhappy. “The kind thing there unfortunately wasn’t keeping him on, but was telling him we’d have to part ways.”

    Think about if you were in a relationship — you wouldn’t stay in it if you knew the other person was unhappy.

    “It becomes toxic,” Jeff explains. “Stopping the toxicity is being kind.”

    Although Jeff decided to have a tough conversation (probably one of the most difficult conversations a leader can have with an employee), he recalls receiving a thank-you card from the former employee later. The card explained how grateful he was to have found a new opportunity — thanks to the conversation he and Jeff had months earlier.

    This example proves that kindness and strength are not exclusive. In fact, it takes tremendous strength to speak to an employee in a way that is constructive, even though the situation may be uncomfortable. While an unkind leader may avoid the discomfort by letting the employee figure his life out on his own, a kind leader pushes that employee in the right direction through candid feedback, difficult discussions, and more.

  3. Kind leaders focus on recognition

    One thing CompHealth does very well — and that Jeff is continuously focusing on as a senior VP of culture and engagement — is recognition.

    “Our recognition platform has really helped us promote our culture of kindness,” explains Jeff.

    While individual teams have their own recognition practices, from peer shout-outs during stand-up meetings to celebratory treats for team wins, CompHealth has a company-wide recognition program that runs off (you guessed it) the company’s core value of putting people first, and the kind behaviors that stem from it: acting with integrity, being personable, setting expectations, and more.

    The prizes for being a finalist for this program range from company-branded pullovers and gift cards to all-expense-paid trips and more. But beyond the incentives, recognition programs like this one promote a continuous cycle of kindness — a ripple effect.

    When one employee recognizes another employee being kind, that employee will also be kind, and the ripple continues. Just imagine the momentum of that ripple if an employee is recognized by his or her leader.

    And while it may be hard for a busy leader to find time to recognize each employee, it’s crucial. Kind leaders find time to boost their people’s engagement through recognition because it matters to both the people and the business. An unkind leader may not, and their business may suffer.

  4. Kind leaders hire for culture

    Jeff’s fourth point goes back to the beginning of any great workplace story: the hiring process.

    “We hire for culture fit, then train for skill” he says. “When we interview people, we choose to interview those who show the cultural qualities we’re looking for. Kindness is one of them. Sincerity. Honesty. Integrity. When we hire people, we ask specific examples of when they lived these behaviors.”

    In other words, CompHealth leaders often hire for personality over experience. But what exactly is the benefit of this? Can’t this be risky?

    For starters, it ensures that leaders are hiring the right people to preserve their company’s culture. It also proves that great leaders not only believe in their people to grow, but also believe that kindness is the perfect foundation for success.

    It takes a lot of strength for a leader in this situation to guide their people in the right direction — and even more strength to have the foresight to see if an employee is beneficial for the company’s future or not.

  5. Kind leaders lead out of gratitude

    After being a part of CompHealth’s kindness-focused culture for nearly 25 years as both an employee and leader, Jeff has learned to lead primarily out of gratitude.

    “Every day that I walk into this organization, I have a great deal of gratitude,” he says. “Gratitude for CompHealth’s values. Gratitude for a company that believes in living its purpose and impacting both people and communities. Gratitude for a company that gives constructive and sometimes hard feedback. Gratitude for growing as a father and friend, and for helping others grow. I’m just grateful for it all.”

    The best part? Every ounce of gratitude, vulnerability, and enthusiasm for his people makes him and his company stronger.

Whether you’re a corporate leader or simply someone trying to impact others through acts of kindness, how can you take Jeff’s advice to heart?

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