Be Kind to Humankind: a lesson for leaders?

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‘Be kind to your parents though they don't deserve it…’ warbled Pete Seeger in the 1960s. The message – and all Seeger's songs had a message – was that you might find yourself in their position one day, as they had once been in yours. Being kind, in the song, isn't just about being nice – it's borne of a hard-headed recognition that it's in your interests to be kind because your wellbeing is inextricably linked to that of others.

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 day you might wake up, and find you’re a parent too.

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Senior Budget and Planning Officer,
Transport project Office
Comment date
06 November 2015
i need good leadership lesson from outstanding leaders of the time. to lead any organization through strategic leadership.

Dr Malcolm Rigler

NHS GP and Health Ambassador at The Patients Association,
Partners in Health ( Midland ) Ltd.
Comment date
30 August 2013
The Francis Report advises us that:
"Leaders should be flexible in their style, being directive when necessary, but also engaging others in decision-making". This approach to management could just as well be the underlying principle of successful practice as an NHS GP. Sometimes you let the patient talk at length , diagnosis is made , options for "next steps" considered and mutual agreement between Patient and GP is the result but when the diagnosis is clearly ruptured ectopic pregnancy or myocardial infarction the GP is negligent if he/she does not take full responsibility for getting the patient to the hospital as quickly as humanly possible . Every single consultation every day must bear in mind the need to act swiftly and effectively or move slowly to a shared decision. The stress of this type of work has often led GPs - and no doubt managers - to "burn out". I hope that sometime soon someone somewhere within the NHS will take note of the suggestion made some years ago by Prof McManus that to prevent "burn out" in doctors ( and managers - my words) we need a "Department of Theatrical Medicine"
Department of theatrical medicine? [Editorial]. - UCL‎

Department of theatrical medicine? See page 801 ... medicine,l Moliere and George Bernard Shaw wrote plays ... 2 McManus IC, Vincent CA, Thom S, Kidd]. Maybe with the help of such a Department in every Trust / CCG area we might become more "humane" and be able to avoid the accusation made by David Weatherall that "we seem to have become a profession of uncaring technocrats".
Elizabeth Fradd: why communication and information matter | The ... › Audio / Video‎

23 Dec 2012 - Some years ago ,aware of these issues, David Weatherall wrote in a BMJ editorial entitled "The Inhumanity of MEdicine" that "we seem to be ...

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