Tough love or kindness: which approach should you take with your team?

What approach should you take when working with your team? Should it all be kindness and understanding or is there a time for tough love too?

The answer to this question will depend on the person, their situation, and how they handle being challenged. Some people might react better to encouragement while others need more of an aggressive push in order to perform at optimum levels. What works best for one may not work as well for another – so keep reading!

The benefits of being nice to your team 

Kindness builds confidence and improves morale. 

Why does kindness build confidence? The answer is easy. When someone shows you that they care, you feel more relaxed and safe. And when you feel more relaxed and safe, your inhibitions fall and you can do better work.

Kindness is positive. When you’re kind to your team, it builds an encouraging environment for everyone’s morale.

It helps your team relationships by not creating competitiveness between people.  

When you don’t push your team members or make them feel like they’re being compared to each other, they won’t be threatened by other people’s success. Plus, if there’s no anxiety created by competition, people are more likely to talk with one another about problems and work together well on projects.

Expressing gratitude is a key part of being nice, which motivates others to work harder for you!

When you compliment someone for doing a good job, they feel seen and noticed. People are motivated to keep performing well because of your gratitude and kindness.

(Aside: Being nice when giving criticism not only gets your point of view across but also makes it easier for the person to receive it. But remember not to criticise in public.)

Kind behavior earns trust that will be needed in tough times when you need their support the most. 

When people know you will do right by them, by being reasonable and kind during normal times, they will return that respect when you need them too.

Kindness is a form of communication that builds rapport. 

It shows that you care about the other person and their feelings. It also helps you see other people’s perspectives more clearly by creating an environment where people feel safe being honest to you, because the expect a kind response, not a negative reaction.

Making others happy ultimately leads to making yourself happy by seeing others succeed.

Why? When others are happy and working well, you feel more successful because of the positive environment. And nothing is as contagious as positive energy!

The benefits of being tough on your team 

Being tough builds a sense of resilience.

Resilience is important. Resilience is the ability to achieve goals and bounce back from failures. Being resilient means being able to deal with challenges, mistakes, and disappointments without allowing them to make you feel defeated or negatively affect your attitude.

By strengthening your team’s resilience, you encourage them to finish what they start and have the will to try again if something doesn’t work first time.

Which begs the question…How do you build resilience without damaging team members?

By being honest about their shortcomings but caring when giving criticism

Your team will build resilience by learning what they need to do better without feeling criticized or judged. They’ll develop emotional toughness which helps them overcome challenges, fears, worries and criticism – all of the things that most people avoid because they are either afraid or have a negative response to them

Pressure can lead to breakthroughs

A little bit of pressure can lead to breakthroughs and innovation, even if it’s uncomfortable for some time. 

For many people it’s easier to remain focused when they’re experiencing a little level of pressure. For this reason, some people can find novel solutions when they are under a little bit of pressure as opposed to having no pressure at all.

However, you need to be careful not to push too far. You want to apply enough pressure for your team to feel a sense of urgency and challenge, but not so much that they feel overwhelmed and unable to complete the task at hand.

Top performance requires a spectator

People are more likely to perform best when they know that you’re watching them and have high expectations for what they do. (Aside: if you’re not paying attention, it can seem like you don’t care).

Lets people know that you will enforce standards

If people feel like they don’t need to be on their toes, because you’ll always be nice no matter what happens, then your team might not “work” for you anymore!

That’s why it’s important to set performance expectations and let your people know that you won’t accept anything less. If there are no consequences, you can’t expect them to take you seriously.

(Aside: Read this article and learn what to do about team members who don’t meet expectations)

Forces people into the top performance zone

Toughness also forces people out of their comfort zone which may lead to better performance in the long run too….

“Only when someone pushes themselves do they realize just how strong they are.” 

How to find the right balance between kind words and tough love for your team

– No matter which approach you take, kindness is important.

– Find a balance between being kind and being tough by setting clear expectations for your team’s performance at work. 

– Keep people in their comfort zones while also pushing them out of them every once in awhile so they can grow and learn. 

– Not everyone will respond well to the same type of leadership style – be comfortable with realising when someone needs something different from what you’re giving. 

– The answer isn’t always one or the other; sometimes there are situations where both styles would be extremely beneficial to put into place.


If you’re struggling to figure out what type of leadership style is best for your team, take this as a sign that you need more than one. It’s important to be both kind and tough because each has its own benefits. Sometimes people will respond better to being pushed while others may feel like their comfort zones are threatened by too much pressure from the boss. Don’t overthink it: if all else fails, just remember kindness leads to happiness and we can never have too many happy employees! 

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