The 6 Signs of An Unkind Leader

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In one of our last posts, we talked about the need to develop yourself as a leader who has a high EI or emotional intelligence.

By definition, you would expect that this also includes your ability to be a great leader who understands the need to be aware of an ill thought through communication or side comment, which isn’t necessary. It’s easy to think all leaders understand this. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.  

Today with more on our ‘to-do’ list than ever, occasionally even the best of us can make the occasional unkind comment. So today we want to share several signs to notice if your behaviour with your team might be considered unkind. 

They Lack Empathy

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, empathy is defined as “the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation”.

In organisational life today, the focus on increasing financial performance continues to be relentless and change is a constant, yet at what cost  

There are still leaders who believe that they have to be strong (read ‘authoritarian)have an unbending will and drive results,without considering the impact their approach is having on their team. 

Demonstrating empathy, no matter how senior a leader you areshows strength, not weakness. Being able to show others warmth, listening to their challenges and experiences and seeing their perspective without the voice in your heading kicking into ‘fixing things’ for them will allow those around you to feel ‘heard’ and appreciated.  

Inability to Listen

Unkind leaders are often poor listeners. They show little interest in their teamideas and opinions, believing that they have little to contribute. After all, they are in their position because of what they have achieved to date. Their strategies work, they have been promoted into a leadership role, so why do they need to listen to others?

Take The Glory

How often have you heard the phrase ‘If it goes well, they take the glory, and if it goes wrong, they blame the team?

Sadly there are leaders who still operate like this today. They have a belief that to succeed and position themselves for further advancement they need to continually promote themselves by taking all the glory.   

Breaks Promises

A good friend of mine works within the recruitment industry, and I find it interesting to hear the various reasons why employees leave their job and companies. You may be surprised to hear that one of the more common causes is ‘broken promises’ and you may have experienced this yourself. 

Promises such as:  

  • After another six months performing at this level and you will be promoted to ‘Senior Account manager’. 
  • The next Regional Director Role has your name on it.  
  • You will get your pay rise at the end of the year.  

I think you get the idea. 

Too often though, these promises don’t materialise. If we are honest with ourselves, they were probably unrealistic in the first place. However, we heard what we wanted to hear. 

This often happens because the leader concerned didn’t want to have an uncomfortable honest conversation about the fact that there won’t be a pay rise or promotion.  

Which leads me to the next point. 

Are Unclear 

Dr Brené Brown researched brave leadership over seven years and wrote about her finding in the book Dare to Lead.

What she discovered was that most of us avoid being transparent with others because we tell ourselves we‘re kindBut by not being clear, we are potentially putting people in situations that they are maybe unprepared for, so actually, what we are doing is being unkind and unfair.  

In her book, Dr Brown goes on to suggest 

  • Feeding people half-truths or bulls**t to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable) is unkind. 
  • Not getting clear with a colleague about expectations because it feels too hard yet holding them accountable or blaming them for not delivering, is unkind.  
  • Talking about people rather than to them is unkind.  

Narcissistic Characteristics  

A narcissistic leadership style describes someone interested only in themselves and will put their interests ahead of others without hesitation or considering the impact this will have.  

What is some classic narcissistic behaviour to look out for? 

Leaders who want to dominate, often are described as ‘liking to hear the sound of their own voice’ and are exceptionally poor listeners who have no interest in what others have to say. They wouldn’t even think to ask a team member for their opinion. 

Narcissistic leaders are often arrogant, self-absorbed, and believe that they are unique and entitled to praise and admiration. Their self-awareness can be low as they over-estimate their performance.  

Remember, kindness doesn’t have an ego. 

It’s not about looking for recognition that you are kind. It’s about doing the right thing and being kind because that’s what you know is the right thing to do. 

In the frenetic world we live in today, I worry that we forget some basic human attributes. When I am rushing to meet a deadline, I may not always appreciate that one of my team needs a few minutes of my time to listen and maybe some empathy.  I am working on it. How about you?
How kind are you as a leader?  



Rachel Hewitt-Hall 


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