Kill Them With Kindness: What Dolly Parton Can Teach Leaders About Forgiveness

Kill Them With Kindness Shouldn’t Be ‘Moral Revenge.’

Kill them with kindness, is often used with a tone of ‘moral revenge.’ Many people use it when you can’t stand a person, you want to get even, but your morals prevent you from doing bad things to them.
So, you decide you’ll try to drive them crazy by being nice to them.

But I like to look at it a different way.
I think of ‘killing them with kindness’ as a figurative death.
By showing them kindness, you may inspire them to put to death their old way of doing things and take on a new and better way, That new way being, kindness.

In learning more details about Dolly Parton this week, I couldn’t help but think of how I speak about ‘killing them with kindness.’
Showing a new and better way, inspiring people to change.

What I learned has to do with how Dolly handled the years long challenging business relationship with Porter Wagoner.

First, a few things I already knew…
-Dolly got a big start on the Porter Wagoner show.
-After quite a bit of success, she wanted to move on.
-She wrote “I Will Always Love You” as a way to say goodbye to him.
-After she left, Porter became jealous and sued her for $3M.

Here’s where I learned more about Dolly’s depth of kindness…

She settled with Porter and gave him $1M even though she couldn’t afford it in order to solve the rift peacefully.
She even signed over all of the rights to the songs she created with him so he would receive the royalties.

Years later, Porter fell on hard times and Dolly bought his publishing company to give him the funds he needed to bounce back.

Years later, when he wanted to buy it back from Dolly, she instead gave it to him as a gift.

Because of her kindness and the promise she made in her song, “I will always love you”, Dolly’s actions showed Porter a better way.
She was able to demonstrate kindness so effectively that Porter changed.
He apologized to her.
They reconciled.
They performed together late in Porter’s life.
She was even at his bedside as he passed away.

Dolly is an incredible example of kindness and an incredible example of how we can aspire to conduct ourselves in business.

There will be times co-workers and unfortunately, even leaders, treat us poorly.
I know I’ve encountered my fair share of this.

But, no matter how poorly we’ve been treated in those moments, especially by people we should have been able to trust, I am convinced that we must remain convicted to not allow that mistreatment to change who we are as a person, a worker, or a leader.

I am inspired by Dolly’s story.
I am inspired because of her heart to treat others well even if they mistreat her.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to ask Alexa to begin my Dolly Parton playlist.

Nathan is a bestselling author and keynote speaker on the importance of leading with kindness.
He speaks for many different business sectors from theme parks and customer service to technology and cybersecurity.
He shares the secret to growing others is to build a culture of kindness.

To request a speaking engagement or to request a bulk order of the bestselling leadership book, Empowering Kindness, please email:

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