• Henrieta Ribeiro

Kind, But Firm


I attended Adler University, formerly known as the Adler School of Professional Psychology, for graduate school. It is named after Alfred Adler and his understanding of human psychology. Adler was a protégé and fellow psychiatrist of Freud.


Dr. Rudolf Dreikurs, a protégé of Adler, was responsible for much of the success of Adlerian psychology in North America. He organized Adler’s thoughts into a comprehensible and pragmatic system. Today, Dreikurs’ legacy is probably most lived in the parenting books he wrote about how to invite cooperation from children without the use of reward and punishment. His book Children: The Challenge is a classic text on parenting. The popular modern parent education programs like STEP Parenting, Active Parenting, and Positive Parenting are all based on Dreikurs’ Adlerian system of parenting.


There is a legend that is well known about Dr. Dreikurs that goes something like this:

One day, Dr. Dreikurs was invited to meet with another professor from the school at the professor’s residence. The professor had a very sweet, but very misbehaved and rambunctious border collie. He was running late and knew that Dr. Dreikurs would know how to let himself in and wait for him, but what about the dog? The professor was very worried about how his dog would misbehave with a stranger in the house, if the dog barely listened to his owners. When the professor and his family got home, they found their dog calmly sitting by Dreikurs’ chair. They were amazed and asked Dr. Dreikurs: How did you get him to listen to you? His reply was: Dogs are like children, you need to be kind, but firm!


Kind, But Firm doesn’t just relate to parenting, it also applies to leadership. After all, parenting and leadership are deeply interconnected: parents are their children’s leaders and leaders fill the role of a kind, yet firm “parent” for their teams. Many of the same principles, such as listening, compassion, communication and boundaries are practiced both in parenting and leadership.


Last week, Maryanne talked about building your personal toolbox for leadership. She introduced the first tool, a phrase that helps her as she listens to others: Tell Me More. Today, I would like to add Dr. Dreikurs’ phrase to your toolbox: Kind, But Firm.


What does Kind, But Firm mean? It means taking your empathy and emotional intelligence skills we have talked about in this Intentional Leadership blog series and remembering how to use them: responding rather than reacting, treating others with dignity, staying kind, yet respecting boundaries and rules that are put in place not to control people, but to provide a safe and nurturing environment for them.


I always remind myself to be Kind, But Firm when I am faced with a difficult situation in leadership, in running restorative circles or when someone is disrupting the group’s safety or established guidelines. I can respond with kindness and empathy while firmly holding the safety and the necessary boundaries of the group in mind.


How do you see using Kind, But Firm in your leadership or parenting?

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