Err on the side of kindness as a leader

Friday September 17 2021

Emotionally draining work environments negatively affect organisations and the people, leaders must take steps to change them, starting with themselves. Photo | Courtesy.


I took up the role of managing director of Absa Bank Uganda when there was a disruption in the overall socio-economic environment brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. 
For many like myself, who are in positions that require managing people, this period highlighted the need to take a step back and re-evaluate the way we approach leadership to be able to influence the right outcomes and achieve organisational goals. 

Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index surveyed more than 30,000 people in 31 countries and discovered that leaders are out of touch with their staff and need a wake-up call. The report also revealed that business leaders are doing better than their employees and that 37 per cent of the global workforce believe their employers are asking too much of them at this time. Therefore, despite one’s intelligence, education and capabilities, a leader needs to incorporate emotional intelligence (EQ) into their journey. 

Err on the side of kindness
 EQ is the ability to recognise, comprehend, and control our own emotions, as well as recognise, comprehend, and impact the emotions of others. This entails understanding how emotions can influence our conduct and affect others (both positively and adversely). 

We do not have visibility over what our colleagues are going through outside work, and some may be dealing with a great deal of pressure in silence. This is why we should err on the side of kindness and humility in all that we do. 

One of the main causes of fear and anxiety right now is the immediate and long-term health effects of the Coronavirus, which state has been made worse by the financial implications of caring for a loved one in need of hospitalisation. 

Employees are also worried about their job security, increased social isolation and for some, grief and loss.  A leader manages people to achieve results because, despite all that is going on around us, we must still deliver on tasks.  


Given that fact, you are only as good as the people working with and for you, and leaders with a high EQ can get the best out of their teams (EQ accounts for roughly 90 per cent of what distinguishes top performers from colleagues with equivalent technical abilities and knowledge).

Emotionally intelligent leaders make better decisions, have a happier workforce, achieve greater results, and have higher rates of retention because they help create a healthy work environment.  

To be emotionally intelligent, one must first and foremost be self-aware, which is a state that most of us claim to be whether we validated the assertion or not. Self-awareness is key to determining or managing your emotions. It helps you know yourself, what triggers your happiness or anger and understand how you are feeling and why. 

Emotional self-regulation
I always emphasise that as a leader, you should treat people the way you want to be treated, which is why it is important to know how to operate when in a certain emotional state to avoid giving off negative energy while you are among colleagues. 

Losing one’s temper is normal, but when you have had a moment to calm down, you should be candid enough to admit the mistake, swallow your pride and apologise to the colleague on the receiving end, while making an effort to explain what triggered that reaction. 

This is key to showing your colleagues how you desire things to be done and also teach them to be vulnerable enough to admit when they have made an error and how to manage their emotions. 
When I was younger and starting my career, I enjoyed conflict and knocking horns with my superiors because I felt like I was as knowledgeable as they were.  

But as I got older, I learnt emotional self-regulation, because not managing your emotions achieves nothing and can have the negative effect of souring your relationships with colleagues. 
There will always be triggering circumstances, but you need to develop the ability to absorb that negativity and deal with it when you have a cool head.

Emotional intelligence is a skill like any other and has to be nurtured. I recommend Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to help leaders manage emotions better. In Africa, we are typically resistant to interventions such as therapy, but psychologists are trained to manage people and understand how the human cognitive system works. This can help you channel your emotions positively. 

This article was first published on  by Mumba Kalifungwa. Kalifungwa is the MD Absa bank