A guide to: leading with kindness (no matter your role)

Kindness is at the heart of effective leadership - here’s what we’ve learned

068 Yoyo April 2023 WEB

Kindness is at the heart of effective leadership and its effects permeate organisations, contributing to employee wellbeing and business success. At Yoyo, we swap ‘kill or be killed’ for ‘smile and the world smiles back’ - the rest follows. Here’s what we’ve learned about leading with kindness.

What is kindness?

Kindness is a lot of things. In fact, it’s less a thing and more a trait; a behaviour characterised by empathy, generosity and concern for others. Most dictionary definitions echo this sentiment; however, the word’s etymology is intriguing. Derived from the Old English gecynde - related to kin - it refers to ‘nature, native, and innate’ and has familial denotations. Kindness can then be said to infer a degree of connectedness - a bond between humans as well as that with the natural world. It’s easy to forget that, in what can seem like a dog-eat-dog world, we are one humankind and that our kindness - our innate relatedness and unconditional duty to one another - is what essentially ties us together. 

Beyond our musing on the word, let’s take a look at kindness’ key components.


This is the bedrock of kindness and refers to one’s ability to understand and share the feelings of another. We’re all human with our individual life situations, aspirations and apprehensions; and the more we relate with and exhibit empathy towards one another, the closer we become.

Kindness for me is when someone shows they care, they’ve listened and are aware of what’s going on for you.
Anna, Client Partner


‘Giving’ can take various forms and doing so doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Although systems of exchange are typically associated with capital, i.e. money, your time and small gestures go a long way.


It’s difficult to recognise kindness in those who do not demonstrate continuous and careful thought of others. Whether or not it comes naturally, consideration is the wellspring of kindness that fuels empathy and generosity.

Kindness in the workplace

So why is a digital design agency talking about kindness? Well, for one, we thrive and rely on collaboration. As individual designers, developers, project managers, and beyond, we make up a team. So, as a team, we have a responsibility to one another as humans - and colleagues - to respect and raise one another up to achieve our aim to deliver quality work. Enter kindness. 

That said, it hasn’t always been this way - in the wider business context, I mean. Indeed, kindness's trajectory is inseparable from discourse on gender in the workplace and diversity, equity and inclusion more broadly.

The rise of feminine leadership

Traditional leadership styles have historically favoured “masculine traits and values - typically, assertiveness, competition, independence, rational thinking”. This has led to a normative workplace dynamic which prioritises competition and hierarchy as opposed to collaboration and inclusivity. That’s not to say that these tactics have not been effective; but they have also had a negative impact on individuals’ well being and the environment.

This masculine narrative of success which has dominated the workplace is now being picked apart by the rise of feminine leadership, which puts an emphasis on people-centred and planet-centred solutions. This sounds like a strategy which leverages empathy, generosity and consideration - the key components of kindness. 

The benefits

It turns out that there are scientifically proven benefits to a strategy of kindness. Let’s take a look at a handful that aren’t exclusive to the workplace. Kindness is good for you no matter where you exercise it - let’s get down to brass tacks!

Health & wellbeing

There is neuroscientific evidence to suggest that those who continuously exhibit kindness have 23% less cortisol (stress hormone) and age slower, according to Integrative Physical and Behavioural science

Being kind also lowers blood pressure and protects the heart through a release of Oxytocin which dilates blood vessels.

...when we are either thinking about kind acts or witnessing kind acts or engaging in acts of kindness to other people, there are several biochemical changes that happen in our brain,
Dr. Bhawani Ballamudi, SSM Health child psychiatrist.


Companies that promote ‘kindness’ within their organisation will have an easier time recruiting talent. Indeed, a survey found that 77% of respondents were more likely to apply for a job that lists ‘kindness’ as a key value. Enough said.

Job satisfaction

Funnily enough, people do their best work when they feel good about themselves and the work they’re doing. In a survey of 1,365 employees from large companies, and Beekman 1802 found that:

  • Being kind to your boss predicts happiness in the workplace.
  • Kindness at work is a bigger predictor of happiness than income.
  • Feeling valued is one of the biggest contributors to workplace happiness.
  • Doing purposeful work is directly linked to levels of happiness at work.

Beyond getting paid to work, an individual’s intrinsic motivation to work is essential to job satisfaction. Kindness goes a long way when it comes to building a happy workplace and motivating people to work. 

Creativity & innovation

Last but not least, if employees are relaxed and given opportunities to pursue their own goals, they are more likely to produce quality work. That’s intrinsic motivation for ya. 

Creating a space for creative expression that is founded on kindness will no doubt bring out the best in people.

​​When employees feel cared about, they engage in better teamwork, and they are creative risk takers, willing to stick their necks out and stretch beyond customary bounds

Leading with kindness 

By now you’re probably thinking, “Cool, you’ve made your point but what does kindness look like at work?”. Well, here are a few ideas to get you started. We’re almost certain you’re already doing these things so we’re confident that you can fill in the gaps.

Learn about your colleagues

If empathy is about understanding and sharing the feelings of others; taking time to learn about your colleagues is a good place to start. What makes them tick? What’s their favourite food? Do they not like Mondays? Do they have 100 houseplants? Are they feeling ok today? Getting to know your colleagues is a great way to make them feel heard, appreciated and motivated to come to work.

We know that not everyone wants to bring their whole selves to work - and it’s important to respect that - but you can likely find a happy medium. Everyone is the main character in their own story, so taking the time to learn about someone else is a generous and considerate thing to do. Even if you ask how someone really is, it can mean the world. 

The best kindness I ever feel is when someone knows something about me (like the fact that I don't like Mondays) and then goes out of their way to incorporate that knowledge into their actions (like convincing a client to have a meeting on a Tuesday rather than a Monday).
Calvin, Head of Development

A little goes a long way

You might be thinking “Oh no, ‘being kind’ sounds like so much effort”. Fear not, we’re not asking you to radically change your behaviour or lie down in a puddle for someone to walk over you. It’s the small things that can make all the difference. After all, if everyone mucks in you’ll get there faster together. 

Beyond asking how someone is, you might ask around the office if anyone would like a coffee while you make yourself one. You might tidy the communal area or pick up a task others don’t want to do. There’s even something called ‘organisational citizenship behaviour’, which describes actions that aren’t in your job description but, if we get them done, the workplace is that much better for everyone. 

Recognise successes

When your colleague completes that document early, smashes that presentation, or helps out a team member do you recognise their hard work? You probably do, but it’s worth reiterating that it’s important to shout about your team’s successes. Recognition doesn’t always mean reward but, at Yoyo, we believe in carrot-not-stick. Whether that’s employee of the month or giving someone a shoutout on your company-wide Slack channel, giving recognition is a form of generosity and consideration which translates to kindness. 

It’s also important to reframe feedback - it’s not all doom and gloom. All feedback can be considered an act of kindness. It’s your perception of it which determines whether it is negative or positive so own your mistakes and take confidence from vulnerability. That said, there’s a leadership principle which suggests the optimum praise-to-criticism ratio is 6:1 - for every criticism, you should make around six positive comments. 

Call out bad eggs

Negativity isn’t great, though, especially if it is left to fester. It’s crucial to nip patterns of bad behaviour in the bud before they lay eggs. That doesn’t mean pointing the finger and creating drama in the office - no-one likes a screaming match - but what we do suggest is creating open channels of communication which allow employees to share their experiences in confidence. 

Like negativity, kindness also grows exponentially. Kindness breeds kindness in a Pay It Forward kind of way. Whether you do or don’t know the film, if someone does something kind for you, do a good deed for three others and see what happens… 

Kindness, not blind niceness

Finally, doing a good deed and being kind should not be confused with blind niceness. This is where kindness gets a bad rep and has been traditionally conflated with weakness. Believe it or not, you can be kind yet assertive. 

If someone says jump, you don’t necessarily need to respond with “How high?”. You can be kind whilst also being confident in your boundaries and beliefs. To this end, it’s important to be kind to yourself first and be self-assured to share kindness with others. As a leader - whatever your role - whilst you must understand that good ideas can come from anywhere, blind niceness can lead you down a road you, in yourself, know you don’t want to go down!

Kindness in the workplace can indeed be seen as an intricate balancing act but a great deal of it comes from being in touch with what makes you human. Your appreciation and respect for others whilst working towards a common goal. At the end of the day, you’re all on the same team, part of the same organisational ‘family’, and belong to nature - connect and lead with kindness.

Want to know more? Let’s chat!

Want to know more about how kindness informs our work or just have a quick chat before putting pen to paper? Then let’s chat! 

Book a meeting with a member of the team today:  

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024 Yoyo April 2023 WEB