Half a century on, much the same message is propounded by John Ballatt and Penelope Campling, authors of Intelligent Kindness. Their book argues for the importance of intelligent kindness in health care. Kindness, they suggest, is derived from our sense of connectedness with others and is at the heart of effective health care, but it takes courage and it carries risk.
In our leadership programmes, should we be teaching health care leaders – both clinical and managerial – how to be kind? There is much evidence for the benefits of kind and compassionate health care. Compassionate care leads to better clinical outcomes and better patient experience. Staff feel better if they're able to take the time to be kind – to connect, at a human level. And kind leadership also has benefits; being kind to our teams is not simply the right thing to do but also the intelligent thing to do. If we want patients to experience kindness and compassionate care in their treatment, then the staff who deliver that care must experience the same kindness and compassion in the way they are managed and led. Robert Francis made this very clear in his second report on Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.
All the leaders we work with know very well how to be kind, but I think that ‘intelligent kindness’ as a leadership practice – the sharing of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ data about patients, and our responses to patients, for example – can be taught and developed. What we must also do is create spaces in which leaders can have conversations about why intelligent kindness is important, and why it is sometimes very difficult.
In the past there was a paradigm of leadership that saw strong leaders as the antithesis of kind leaders – show 'em you care, went the logic, and they'll take you to the cleaners. No-one could really respect a leader with compassion. You had to be tough to lead well.
That, though, is an increasingly old-fashioned view. More recent evidence suggests that good leadership is emotionally intelligent leadership. It is – as Machiavelli and, much later, Cuddy et al argued – important for leaders to be loved as much as feared. Our NHS needs leaders who are in touch with both their own emotions and those of their teams and who encourage the provision of health care that values empathy and kindness as much as efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
There are barriers to this. Time is one; creating emotional defences to protect against experiencing too closely the pain and distress of others is clearly another. We do, therefore, need to explore in our leadership programmes why things go wrong, why people sometimes behave unkindly, and what we can do to change that, at the organisational, system and individual level.
This week is ‘Be Kind to Humankind’ week. Of course we shouldn’t need a week to exhort us to be kind, but it is always helpful to be reminded of the importance of kindness in leadership. After all, as Pete Seeger sang in ‘Be Kind to Your Parents’ 50 years ago: ‘...treat them with patience and kind understanding, in spite of the foolish things they do...one day you might wake up, and find you’re a parent too.