Kind-hearted Leadership: Oxymoron or Better Together?


A recent Forbes article titled “Kindness Does Not Equate To Weakness in Leadership” (Click Here) got me thinking about the Scout Law — A Scout is Kind.

Being kind is typically defined as being generous, friendly, agreeable, tolerant, humane, considerate, charitable or demonstrating sympathy for others.

In some social circles, kindness is seen as being weak — becoming vulnerable for no real return in that investment.  Helping other people without getting rewarded can be seen as a waste of time by those who are greedy or self-centered.

In scouting we promise to help other people at all times (not just when it’s easy or convenient), do good turns for others on a daily basis, and that we will be kind.  Why?  First kindness is seen as a knightly virtue.  We demonstrate strength of personal character by being prepared (in mind, body and spirit) to sacrifice our time and resources to help others.

The 1911 BSA handbook offers this explanation of kindness: The habit of thinking well of others and doing good to them.

We also help others when we’re tolerant of their beliefs.  The word “tolerant” has become a politically charged and often hijacked word — twisted to mean things different from it’s book definition.  Tolerant simply means sympathy for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own – it doesn’t mean we have to agree, or hold those beliefs – merely allow others the ability to express themselves.  This shows kindness whereas “shouting down” someone who is trying to express themselves is not kind.  Lastly, insisting that everyone agree on a belief isn’t kindness, it’s selfishness.

So can or should a leader be kind?  

Public Speaker RockwellI think that the best leaders share both humility and kindness as key character traits; however, their humility and kindness NEVER interfere with their clear-headed analysis and decision making.

Being kind may mean firing a poorly performing employee when they’ve been given fair warning that their performance was below acceptable standards.  Being kind would also have been characterized as trying to coach and help that employee improve their performance before a termination became inevitable.   Kindness doesn’t mean being a poor businessman or leader who can’t make tough choices — or allowing unacceptable performance to go unnoticed/un-addressed.  A kind leader will confront the issue with firmness and conviction, but handle it calmly and deterministically.

IMGP6874As a patrol leader, ASPL or SPL, youth leaders won’t (typically) fire members of their patrol or PLC, but they certainly should be providing lots of feedback on performance — encouraging when things go smoothly and corrective/constructive when things are not going as well.

Kindness enables leaders to share that feedback productively — avoiding hurt feelings, guarding against bitterness or personal attacks, and focusing on improvement without getting hung up on blame setting.

IMGP6891Kindness helps engender trust between leader and team, too.   Our troop learned this lesson while participating in the COPE program at Camp Lewis a couple weeks ago.  The instructor and director of the program were more than patient with our troop — they were very kind to let our team struggle and then layer by layer peel back the barriers to real trust and real teamwork.

Kindness is often the glue that binds teams into “consensus” (general agreement despite lingering reservations) whereas prideful, charismatic (hubristic) leadership might struggle to get the group on the same page or to get results in a timely, thrifty manner.

The 1911 BSA handbook talks about the character of the early American Pioneers in this manner:

modern knightThese American knights and pioneers were generally termed backwoods men and scouts, and were men of distinguished appearance, of athletic build, of high moral character and frequently of firm religious convictions. Such men as “Apple-seed Johnny,” Daniel Boone, George Rogers Clark, Simon Kenton and John James Audubon, are the types of men these pioneers were. They were noted for their staunch qualities of character. They hated dishonesty and were truthful and brave. They were polite to women and old people, ever ready to rescue a companion when in danger, and equally ready to risk their lives for a stranger. They were very hospitable, dividing their last crust with one another, or with the stranger whom they happened to meet. They were ever ready to do an act of kindness.

These folk were not weak, but ready for all sorts of action.  Kindness was never absent, either.  They were servant leaders of their own right — ready to help when needed.

Col. Teddy Roosevelt offered this advice in a letter that was reprinted in the 1911 BSA handbook:

The same qualities that mean success or failure to the nation as a whole, mean success or failure in men and boys individually. The boy scouts must war against the same foes and vices that most hurt the nation; and they must try to develop the same virtues that the nation most needs. To be helpless, self-indulgent, or wasteful, will turn the boy into a mighty poor kind of a man, just as the indulgence in such vices by the men of a nation means the ruin of the nation. Let the boy stand stoutly against his enemies both from without and from within, let him show courage in confronting fearlessly one set of enemies, and in controlling and mastering the others. Any boy is worth nothing if he has not got courage, courage to stand up against the forces of evil, and courage to Trailblazing Scoutsstand up in the right path. Let him be unselfish and gentle, as well as strong and brave. It should be a matter of pride to him that he is not afraid of anyone, and that he scorns not to be gentle and considerate to everyone, and especially to those who are weaker than he is. If he doesn’t treat his mother and sisters well, then he is a poor creature no matter what else he does; just as a man who doesn’t treat his wife well is a poor kind of citizen no matter what his other qualities may be. And, by the way, don’t ever forget to let the boy know that courtesy, politeness, and good manners must not be neglected. They are not little things, because they are used at every turn in daily life. Let the boy remember also that in addition to courage, unselfishness, and fair dealing, he must have efficiency, he must have knowledge, he must cultivate a sound body and a good mind, and train himself so that he can act with quick decision in any crisis that may arise. Mind, eye, muscle, all must be trained so that the boy can master himself, and thereby learn to master his fate. I heartily wish all good luck to the movement.


Kindness is rooted in humility — “anti-selfishness” — and this is a great strength for most leaders.  It enables teammates to “push back” and give corrective feedback that improves plans and avoids bumps.  It enables leaders to freely support and praise team members who have performed very well.  It enables leaders to deliver “tough feedback” without pulling any punches since it’s not about punching, but coaching.  It also helps leaders confront change head-on without fear or reservation, and to share the change process with their subordinates constructively.

Remember a scout is kind for lots of great reasons.

learning to teach others


About Troop113

Our Troop # comes from Psalm 1:1-3 - describing the men we want our scouts to become
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