Merge's Blog

It’s more important to be kind than clever

I was talking to a client the other day — a senior manager at an oil company in Calgary — about various issues he’s dealing with in his department, and something he said jogged a long-forgotten memory about a conversation with one of my mentors many years ago.  The manager said “It’s more important to be kind than clever”, which was virtually word-for-word what my mentor told me back in 1991, when I had just become a team leader for the first time.

“It’s more important to be kind than clever.”

In 1991, one of my employees inadvertently made a factual error in a presentation she was giving to our management team.  Unfortunately and much to her chagrin, it was a senior executive member who caught her blunder and pointed it out in front of everyone attending.  While he wasn’t unkind, he was abrupt, and my young employee was not only embarrassed by the flaw in her logic, but also lost her confidence and composure within minutes.  As you might expect, the rest of the presentation did not go well.

Later that day, in a misguided attempt to be helpful, I gave my employee information — a list of academic papers she should review (we didn’t have the Internet as easily available to us then), diagrams to explain the correct process, statistics to back up the executive’s point of view, and advice on how to be more effective in her research in the future — I thought that I could be most helpful to her by being “clever”.

It took a gentle comment from my mentor before I realized that what my employee really needed from me at that moment was reassurance.  Not information or data, not statistics, not advice on how to improve, but just compassion and kindness. What she really needed was support and encouragement from someone in my position (as her immediate supervisor); someone to acknowledge that it was okay to make mistakes; someone to restore her faith in her abilities and skills.  At that moment it was more important for me to be kind than clever!

I am not downplaying the importance of top-notch analytical support, or technology know-how, or first-rate efficiency.  Those are all vital career and leadership skills.  But I am saying that compassion and kindness are just as (if not more) important when it comes to building people and companies.

So …  what do you think?  True, or am I way off-base?  Do you have any examples of when “kind” was better than “clever”, or vice versa?

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