Leading with Kindness

Super Bowl coach and respected Christian witness Tony Dungy has left a mark on America in terms of exemplary leadership. He didn’t curse, sarcastically chew out players, or rant on the sidelines. He believed he could get his team to compete by calmly providing direction and treating players with respect. Interestingly, this demeanor allegedly prevented him from securing a head-coaching job for many years. In our church planter stables, we need more Tony Dungys, who, in the process of trying to achieve great goals, set examples for others.

In the hectic, demanding world of new church development, planting leaders often don’t know either what is going on or refuse to do anything about subpar efforts by staff or volunteer ministry leaders. Point leaders who fail to step in when people need them most are culpable. It may be time for a new type of leader who has cast aside the largesse of ego and exercises power in ways that are more humane. The less invasive leadership style symbolized by the shepherd’s staff reminds me of a quote attributed to Margaret Thatcher: “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”

Leaders exhibit many qualities besides kindness. It is, for example, possible to be hard-nosed and kind, to be cantankerous and kind, to be analytical and kind, or to be gregarious and kind. Kindness comes packaged with many other traits. Thus, a leader’s own unique qualities give him or her a distinctive style. I believe that kindness is part of a good leader’s constitution and that others are able to brush aside some of the other qualities that leaders possess in order to see the compassionate center. Therefore, many different types of people are kind. The search for the perfect leadership personality is terribly misguided and ultimately fails to explain what leaders really do and what makes them effective.

By kind, I do not mean sucker or pushover. Nor do I imply a warmly permissive leader whose staff team runs wild. Kindness does not preclude a full range of expression, including, at times, displeasure, nor should it be interpreted as excessive amicability. The goal of spiritual leadership should not be to get results to please the management team or financial stakeholders, but to increase the effectiveness of the ministry team over time using agreeable means. So even though kindness does not appear in leadership books that are devoured by new church planters, I contend based on personal experience as a planter and planter coach that leading with kindness is truly an important key.