7 Reasons Kindness is the Most Important Leadership Trait, According to Science

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Kayla Heisler1.16k

Treating others with kindness is the right thing to do, but if you fill a leadership role, following the Golden Rule can be especially important. Several scientific studies indicate that if you’re in charge, the best way to lead effectively is to treat employees with kindness. Who benefits from kind leaders? According to science, everyone.

1. Compassion earns status points.

Three experimental studies conducted for the Personality and Psychology Bulletin revealed that people who were deemed to be altruistic placed higher in social status. Participants were tasked with making a social decision that would either positively impact themselves or the group. In the first study, contributions were public, and participants were more likely to make the choice that would benefit the group. Group members who made the most generous choices were awarded higher status than those who chose the option that benefitted themselves.

2. Happy employees are healthy employees.

The Karolinska Institute conducted a study wherein they analyzed data concerning the health of over 3,000 employees. The results showed that managers behaved considerately toward employees were less likely to have employees suffer from ischaemic heart disease than those who did not. 

Another study conducted by the University of Michigan and McGill University considered the impact of social interactions that occurred in the workplace had on employee health. Researchers found that physiological impact of interactions at work was significant. Employees who encountered positive interactions in the workplace showed lower heart rates and blood pressure and a stronger immune system than those who did not.

3. Kind employers manage productive workers.

In addition to the number of ways that working for a considerate boss benefits employees, leaders who are kind also enjoy benefits. A study from the Journal of Product Innovation Management examined the impact of perceived fairness on both individual performance and on team performance overall. When teams worked for leaders who they perceived to be fair, individual performance, interpersonal citizenship behavior, and team performance were all stronger than when fairness was not perceived.

4. Positive attitudes are contagious.

The University of Michigan and Georgia State University conducted a study that revealed that when employees treated one another in a friendly manner, and leaders created a workplace that was not fear-based, customers received better levels of customer service than those served by employees working in less productive conditions. Additionally, employees developed better relationships among themselves and were able to work together in an overall more productive way. 

5. Trust matters most.

Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School conducted a study that revealed that leaders are more effective when they demonstrate strong communication skills and trustworthiness than when they demonstrate their toughness and strength. The study determined that employees are more willing to be led by someone who they find warm than by someone who they fear.

6. When others are put first, organizations succeed. 

Research conducted for the Journal of Positive Psychology shows that self-sacrificing leaders are more likely to inspire employees than those who are not. When employees see leaders putting others before themselves, they are more likely to commit to team goals and help other employees. These facets make for a stronger team overall which leads to more positive consequences for the organization as a whole. 

7. Trustworthiness literally pays off.

Subjects were asked to determine how much money should be allocated to different individuals in a study of trustworthiness conducted by behavioral economists. Subjects had no guarantee of financial return, and the best indicator of who would receive the highest allocations was by assessing which individuals demonstrated the most trustworthy disposition. The study went on to suggest that leaders who were open with subordinates were more likely to cooperate and feel comfortable sharing ideas, which in turn, strengthens organizations.


Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University, and her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology. 

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