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My Thoughts on Leading with Kindness

Today I read an article from my Case Western University alumni magazine (Think), written by a man who graduated ahead of me, William Baker, from the psychology department.  His background is in organizational behavior and he has studied leadership in industry, business, and higher education, not unlike two other people (former instructors) I admire, Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal, authors of Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership.  Nine years ago, when I became a department chair, I began reading very seriously books on leadership, especially books on “how to be a department chair.”  Similarly, when I was an interim dean, nearly five years ago, I continued that reading (“how to be a dean”) and attended the UNC system leadership program for women, “Bridges,” and the Harvard University Institute for Higher Education  …great video…I attended the Institute for Management and Leadership in Higher Education for administrators with 5-12 years of experience.  All of these experiences have affected me, and I hope have made me a better person and leader.  In all of these experiences, many people made an impact, not the least of which was Robert (Bob) Kegan, the education chair and leader of my Harvard institute and the author of Immunity to Change: How to Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization, written with Lisa Lahey.  (See him pictured with my learning group at Harvard.)  This is a book I shared with department chairs in my past.  Today, in preparation for this blog entry to the HHS community, I went to the Harvard institute web site above, and saw the new Utube video.  I watched it and thought about Dr. Kegan and how much he influenced me.  I think I appreciate that now, five years later, and am very grateful to UNCG for sending me to the institute.  As I reflect upon all that I learned from Bob, I realize that leading with kindness was his forte.  I hope he knows William Baker…perhaps they are soul cousins!

Besides reading these great books, I like to share them with my leadership team—assistant and associate deans, department chairs, center directors, etc. and thought I might use this blog to share with you.  I hope students, faculty, alumni and friends are reading this!  Let me know if you are.   I use these types of books as a sort of “in house continuing education” for our folks, and that way we can all compare similar information we are reading.  This past year, amid some of the contentiousness at UNCG of academic realignment, academic program review, budget cuts, no raises, getting a new dean (for some of you!), etc. etc., I have been reading articles on the theme of “leading with kindness.”  I have also reflected upon what some of our UNCG leadership, particularly Vice Provost Alan Boyette, and Provost Dave Perrin (and others)  call “the UNCG way.”  I think of this not as being a doormat, but as leading effectively and being strong, with kindness.  The author of the book, Leading With Kindness, William Baker, mentioned above, has done a great review of this type of leadership.  He says  that describing kind leadership is this

“the purpose isn’t to protect or shelter employees from hard decisions, troublesome issues or setbacks, but to inspire trial, perseverance and personal growth.  Kind leaders treat others like adults, and not as charity cases or dependents.  And while there are ample pockets of levity and fun, the real mission of a true leader is to build a whole, fully functioning person who takes responsibility for his or her actions and values the welfare of the entire group.  Kind leadership, then, isn’t for the faint hearted who shun conflict or bury bad news in order to preserve a swell of fellow feeling. … Kindness makes others stronger…paternalism weakens.  Kindness builds a reservoir of resilience and self-confidence, enabling people to think big and to believe in what they are capable of accomplishing.”

All of the above is easy to say when times are good and resources are not scarce.  It is much harder now, but needed more than ever, I think.  With that in mind, I ordered a copy of Leading With Kindness for our leadership team to share, as well as a companion book, Born to Be Good:  The Science of a Meaningful Life, by Dacher Keltner.  We will have some discussions about this, after reading, and I might share some of it with you.    If you read these books, let me know what YOU think.

I also invite you read David Brooks’ article in the New York Times, “Nice Guys Finish First.”   There are other good articles/books, such as The Honor Code by Kwami Appiah (philosophy professor) and Teamwork Can Outdo Brilliance  (business school focus) and the latest in neuroscience such as the Keltner book above.

If I had money to spend unwisely, I would purchase “HHS: Leading with Kindness” buttons for our leadership team to wear, but that just might be too cheesy.   In any case, I hope all of us in HHS, and at UNCG, can keep the principles of all the above writings in mind this year…they are based in philosophy, business, neuroscience, and good ol’ humanity.

I am proud to work with a team of people in HHS who ARE leading with kindness and I hope you get to know them.  I just wanted to let you know that all of this is “evidence based” and don’t  let anyone tell you otherwise!!  If you are a student reading this, it is never to early to think about leading…in your classes, your major, your volunteer work…wherever.  Lead as if you are serving others and lead with kindness and, if this is new to you, start reading!

Celia Hooper, Professor and Dean

One Response

  1. Fine resources in the spirit of the season!

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