Lalit Johri, Professor at Oxford University presented his book "Kindness in Leadership" at the St Pölten University of Applied Sciences. Together with Gay Haskins and Michael Thomas, he explores the significance of kind behavior for the success of a company.
St. Pölten UAS: Kindness in leadership is rarely mentioned in the corporate world or in executive programmes. Why is that?
Prof Lalit Johri: Kindness is embedded in the human character and kindness is an aspect of our conscience. You see the evidence of kindness in everyday life. But what has happened is that in the way the industrial revolution has evolved, the focus has shifted away from people and towards profit. In this journey of transition, from a people-focus to a profit-focus, we seem to have forgotten many fundamental aspects of what is good leadership.
St. Pölten UAS: For your book „Kindness in Leadership“, you conducted extensive research. What were your findings?
Prof Lalit Johri: We started our work on the book in 2017 and had a look at about 200 different companies. Only in the case of two, we found the explicit mention of the word kindness. That was intriguing: why do corporate templates, policies, value and vision statements never mention kindness? When we dug deeper, we realised that although the word kindness was not mentioned in the corporate documents, it was definitely practised by the leaders.
St. Pölten UAS: What does kind leadership entail?
Prof. Lalit Johri: Our research has identified nine behavioural manifestations of kindness, ranging from being respectful to being a good listener. We also identified certain barriers in terms of incorporating kindness in leadership. For example, kindness is often seen as a weakness on the part of the leader, rather than a strength. Even more so, it is very important to look at kindness in leadership in relation to the performance of the company.
St. Pölten UAS What is the main benefit of incorporating kindness into leadership?
Prof. Lalit Johri: We have discovered that acts of kindness create a cycle. When you are respectful, which is an act of kindness, it creates trust within people. Trust will promote collaboration and collaboration will encourage inclusive decision-making. Inclusive decision-making will involve multiple stakeholders who trust each other. This will result in a superior performance of the organisations.
St. Pölten UAS What is the most important piece of advice you can give aspiring leaders?
Prof. Lalit Johri: People are the centre of success of a corporation. If you focus on the people, if you create a culture of kindness that leads to trust, you will be successful. Money is not at the centre of success of a corporation, technology is not at the centre of success of a corporation. It is the people.
Professor Lalit Johri is Senior Fellow in International Business at Saïd Business School and Director of the Oxford Advanced Management and Leadership Programme. His areas of expertise include strategy and leadership in international businesses, alliances including public–private partnerships, public policy and institutional reforms and emerging markets.