A Return to Kindness

by Dr. Patrick Malone, Director, Key Executive Leadership Programs

Over the last many years as part of the Key program one of the things I’ve always admired most about our students, staff, coaches, and faculty is the level of kindness and compassion they exhibit toward one-another. When COVID-19 hit us all, I found this gentleness toward one-another to be even more important. And as we, as a nation, struggle through this pandemic, it appears the previously-existing divisive national landscape, one marked by name-calling, and insults, has taken a backseat to uncertainty, loneliness, and fear.

I wrote an article on this very subject as the 2019 holidays got underway. It read in part:

It’s not always easy for kindness and gratitude to make themselves known in today’s world. Combine our omnipresent, hyperactive environment with a 24-hour news cycle, divisive discourse across our nation, and no time for reflection, and it’s no wonder we snap at one another. Life is hard. Research has even suggested we may possess an intrinsic bias toward negativity. This has been helpful from an evolutionary standpoint. We make decisions that allow us to survive and succeed. But kindness, vulnerability, compassion, and empathy struggle to make the grade in a pressure-cooker world.


Prior to this crisis, when we heard a story or witnessed an act of kindness, we often reacted with disbelief. Then we told someone about it, usually beginning with the words, “You’ll never believe what I just saw!” Now it appears different. Our longing for connectedness is more prominent as we socially isolate. We’re seeking connection and the love that is uniquely human. This is because as human beings we may be hardwired for survival, but we’re also hardwired for belonging – especially now.

Zoom is not normal, nor chatrooms, webinars and the like. They serve a purpose to be sure – and they are an important tool for us to use in these challenging times. But they fall short of real human contact. Further, they have diminishing returns with regards to the positive feelings we have in the long run. These platforms – no matter how jazzy they may be, come with the price of sterility. It’s up to us to make them better, more personal, more human. This is where kindness can help bridge the gap. Through our language, tone, and eye contact, we can take a step toward the behaviors that make people feel loved and appreciated – even from miles away.

Author, poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou once stated, “The desire to reach the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise and most possible.” We have a human imperative for kindness, touching others’ hearts, and craving belonging.”

Holding each other’s hand and growing together was a dream of Don Zauderer’s when he envisioned Key. For those of you who are part of this program, in any way, thank you for holding fast in these most challenging times. Love will always win.

About the Author

Dr. Patrick Malone

Professor Malone is an Executive-in-Residence in the Department of Public Administration and Policy where he teaches courses in public sector leadership, executive problem solving, organizational analysis, action learning, leadership ethics, and public administration and policy. He also serves as the Director of American University’s Key Executive Leadership Programs. He is a frequent guest lecturer on leadership and organizational dynamics in state and federal agencies, professional associations, and universities. He has extensive experience working with federal sector leaders from DHHS, EPA, IRS, USDA, HUD, DHS, and DoD among others. Professor Malone also regularly presents in international forums to government leaders from the Republic of Vietnam, Panama, Poland, Belgium, and Mauritius. His research interests and scholarship include work in public service motivation, leadership, ethics, and organizational behavior. He is one of only thirty researchers in the country certified to score the Subject/Object qualitative research methodology developed at Harvard University.

Dr Malone spent twenty-two years in the Department of Defense where he served in a number of senior leadership and policy roles including as a professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences; Academic Director; and Dean of Academics for Navy Medicine. His most recent publications include “Thinking Up,” “Selfies in the Workplace: Narcissists and the Public Manager,” “Making Assumptions? Try the Power of Inquiry,” “The Challenges That Set Public Service Apart” and “Enhancing Your Leadership by Tapping into Staff Attitudes.” His TED Talk, “Thinking about Time,” is available at http://tedxtalks.ted.com and his co-edited book, The Handbook of Federal Leadership and Administration, was published in November 2016. He is also the host of the monthly podcast “Take It From Key.”

About the Key Programs

Key is the global public sector leadership program of choice, as it challenges good managers to become extraordinary leaders who become lifelong learners and build an environment of organizational success. Home to the 3rd nationally ranked Executive MPA program and leadership certificate programs, Key’s alumni leave as leaders who exhibit passion for improving public service, act with integrity and authenticity, become a force for personal and organizational change, and empower others to action and excel.  

SPA Key Executive Leadership Programs


1 reply
  1. George Reese says:

    When I first interviewed with Key it was apparent that kindness was a core value and why I wanted to come and work there. I am so proud to be a member of Key and to help foster the value of kindness in everything we do!


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