“You seemed so nice when we talked, I just figured you wouldn’t mind,” said Allan with more than a hint of exasperation in his voice.
“Really!? You really figured I wouldn’t care you presented my idea to the boss as your own just because I was nice when we spoke?” exclaimed Bea. “What were you thinking?”
I’ve heard similar stories from many a client, especially those striving to be character-based leaders. Unfortunately, it’s a sad fact that far too many people interpret kindness as weakness. Research conducted by Batia M. Wiesenfeld, Naomi B. Rothman, Sara L. Wheeler-Smith, and Adam D. Galinsky found that bosses who treat people with respect and dignity are “seen as less powerful than other managers—less in control of resources, less able to reward and punish—and that may hurt their odds of attaining certain key, contentious leadership roles.”
Individuals wanting to be known as effective leaders are self-aware. They don’t take the same shortcut in stereotypical thinking that Allan did. They understand that a leader/individual who treats them with kindness is not:
- a doormat or stupid
- or a perpetual follower without an opinion
- a fountain of ideas from which others can freely drink without attribution
Steve Livingston, a social psychologist, offers this advice. ”Be careful about the assumptions you make about others, even the positive ones. When we fail to do so, at the very least we are losing the opportunity to get to know someone on a more personal — more human — basis. At the very worst, we can inadvertently set up a chain of expectations and misunderstandings that will undermine the relationship itself.”
It’s a paradox of life that we want to be treated with kindness yet treat those who are kind to us without respect.
The next time someone treats you with respect, acts as if you matter, cares what you think or deals with you fairly — in short, treats you with kindness — don’t sell them, or yourself, short by assuming they’re without power or smarts or influence.
Love this post, Jane! Why is it that when we choose to exert influence instead of force we’re considered weak and ineffectual? Yet, no one likes being forced to do things. So, if I take the time to build a relationship with you and encourage you to use your gifts and talents in a way that benefits the organization as a whole, *I’m* weak?
It’s not easy to encourage another. It requires a strength and confidence regarding who you are and what your value is. This allows you to feel secure about knowing someone else well enough to recognize their strengths without feeling competitive or “less than.”
Tara - thanks much for your kind words! I think power is something we have and/or take; influence is how we choose to use that power. Through societal conditioning, we’ve become accustomed to seeing people use their power for personal gain and/or to inflate the bottom line…and be labeled “successful role models” as a result. All the workplace focus rests on task completion. Pity (no, rather emulate) those poor (no, illuminating and brave) souls who choose instead to be character-based leaders and show kindness and compassion!