The three foundations of leadership kindness

Paul Aladenika
3 min readMar 3, 2024

In 2023, I was invited to deliver a TEDx talk under the banner, ‘the power of kindness’. It was my first TEDx talk and I was honoured to deliver it. The topic of my talk was: ‘how leaders show kindness in toxic space’.

A recording of the full talk has been uploaded onto the TED Talk website on YouTube.

Over the years, due the combination of first-hand experience and my observations of others, I have become convinced that kindness is a valuable social currency and leadership superpower. Acts of kindness can transform extremely difficult situations, resolve complex problems and bring people together who would otherwise never occupy the same space.

But how does kindness actually work?

In deconstructing the anatomy of kindness, this blog focuses on the workforce context and is predicated on the assumption that kindness is most impactful when it is demonstrated to the undeserving.

With the context set, here are the three foundations of leadership kindness.

1. Never allow your emotions to dictate to you

Human emotion is an incredibly powerful impulse. The dopamine and endorphins that are released when emotions are aroused, lead people to do things that make them feel better. In some cases the search for that emotional high may even cause them to do things that make others feel worse.

As a leader, you cannot separate yourself from your emotions, but neither should you ever allow your emotions to dictate to you. Whilst the chemical rush occasioned by emotion, can provide a short-term high, in the longer term this may prove to be a costly luxury. Especially, when dealing with those engaged in acts of casual cruelty or wilful provocation towards you or others. In such situations, irrespective of emotional impulse, leaders must be led by their professional objectivity not their propensity for offence.

Here is useful guiding principle: when faced with the challenge of holding your emotions in check, keep in mind that how others treat you, is their decision, but how you treat them is your choice.

2. Never see your kindness as weakness

So often, leaders are reticent to show kindness for fear that it might be perceived as weakness. This sort of logic is somewhat circular because it is predicated on the assumption that kindness may suggest weakness, whereas it is weakness that inhibits kindness. Therefore, when leaders give themselves over to this type of ‘street corner bravado’, in an effort to present as tough and uncompromising, they unwittingly invite unintended consequences.

When a leader is more interested in having the last word, being seen to be right or guided by ego rather than ethics, common sense is usually the first casualty. Thereafter, it is a race to the bottom as every action no matter how foolish and ridiculous, becomes the means to justify the end.

In leadership, humanity even when it exposes your vulnerability, is something to be embraced, not avoided. Here is a useful guiding principle: as a leader, don’t be kind because you expect kindness to change others, do it because kindness has changed you.

3. Remember to be kind to yourself

In leadership, it is so easy to perceive kindness as an outward rather than an inward expression. However, as a leader you must never forget to be kind to yourself. Much as selflessness and sacrifice are essential resources in the leadership toolbox, failure to be kind to oneself is an act of professional neglect and self-harm.

Leaders should never think of themselves more highly than they ought to, but neither in the pursuit of a servant leadership posture, should they perceive themselves as being of little worth.

Clearly there is an important balance to be struck here because kindness to self, should not equate to the abandonment of responsibilities to others. Therefore, the context should always be considered and principles of good and wise judgement must be consistently applied.

In conclusion, the most pivotal moments of leadership growth are not to be found when there is nothing at stake. On the contrary, they occur in moments where sacrifice and selflessness are required. They occur when you want to fight back but decide not to and when you want to go with the flow but defy conventional wisdom. It is in these moments and others, that leadership character is revealed and reputation is established.

Notwithstanding, anyone in a leadership position, who says that showing kindness to people exhibiting toxic behaviour is easy, hasn’t done it. As someone who has struggled with this myself, I am not going to tell you that it is easy, but what I will tell you is that it is worth it.

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Paul Aladenika

Believer, TEDx speaker, host of The 11th Thing Podcast, blogger, mentor, student of leadership, social economist & thinker. Creator of www.believernomics.com .