Be a Kind Leader Rather Than a Nice Leader

At first glance, the words ‘nice’ and ‘kind’ could be considered interchangeable. After all, an act of kindness is nice, and being nice could also be considered kind. However, the subtle nuances that distinguish a person being nice versus being kind often resides in the underlying intention of the act; being nice is doing something pleasing or agreeable while being kind is rooted in the ideas of altruism and benevolence. Yet, society today emphasizes being nice over being kind, and rarely do we associate kindness as a desirable leadership trait.

As a society, we are socially conditioned to be nice to one another, such as holding the door open for someone, shaking hands, or retrieving a dropped item. Likewise, you have likely been told at one point or another to “be nice” or have even instructed others to do the same. Niceness is a social expectation wielded to help maintain order in society, to avoid conflict. It’s the polite thing to do.

While niceness is a velvet smile applied to preserve the status quo, kindness is both a behavior and a cognitive act; it is a conscious choice to act, speak, or behave in a certain way. Kindness expects nothing in return, honoring the human element in humanity, and leaves room for the inescapable messiness that is life. Kindness appreciates that mistakes happen. Likewise, inherent within the concept of kindness is also an ethical element. Most people would agree that being kind is good or the right thing to do, however, how often do we truly engage in the act of being kind? 

Society today demands leadership that is inclusive, reflexive, and fosters a sense of cohesion between team members. As such, distinguishing between what it means to be a kind leader over a nice leader is an important aspect of leadership and team building. Embodying kindness signals allyship and encouraging others to do the same helps to challenge the social norms that place niceness over kindness. Kind leaders also have the capacity to create better workplaces through increasing job satisfaction, decreasing absenteeism, and increasing employee retention (Ritvo, 2018).

While the media often highlights grand acts of kindness, being a kind leader can take the form of small gestures as simple as being fully present in conversation with a team member, a willingness to help others, validating feelings or challenges someone might be experiencing, encouraging questions and curiosity, and withholding judgement.

Being kind can be uncomfortable; it requires empathy, self-awareness, vulnerability, humility, and emotional intelligence, all characteristics that are easy to dismiss or discard for fear of appearing weak. But kindness is the opposite of weakness; it takes courage. And it is contagious. Now go be a kind leader.  


Ritvo, E. (2018). “Can being kind make you a better boss?”. Psychology Today. Retrieved from:…

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.