Let’s Install Kindness as a Leadership and Organizational Principle
In a global climate of increasing complexity, competition, intolerance and impatience, there has been a steady erosion of public trust in both public and private sector organisations and their leaders. At the same time, there are calls for a more responsible and respectful form of leadership in business and society, for leadership that fosters a sense of inclusion, connection and belonging.
Employees and managers alike face unprecedented obstacles every day. As COVID-19 virus spread worldwide, a study by Mind Share Partners in partnership with Qualtrics and SAP found that 42 percent of respondents said their mental health had declined since the outbreak. Six months later, people’s anxiety, confusion, and despair are topics of near-daily reports in the news and on social media. Even if gestures of kindness and compassion were not woven into business as usual before the pandemic, they are essential now and going forward.
Kindness is becoming popular as evidenced by media titles such as “Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness” and “Empathy Triggers Oxytocin Release”, has led to articles in the popular media trumpeting “5 Ways Science Proves Kindness is Good for Your Health”. Popular science books such as Franz De Waal’s The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society have re-asserted what Darwin himself observed: that humans have an enormous capacity for prosocial, cooperative and altruistic behaviour. Websites focused on spreading kindness, organizations embracing it and educational initiatives aimed at cultivating our better nature are in abundance. And scientific reviews, such as Sonja Lyubomirsky’s and Kristin Layous’ paper in Current Directions in Psychological Science, which claims that people can increase their happiness through practising kindness.
This surge in popular interest in kindness stems from a wealth of converging scientific evidence which shows that empathy, compassion and altruism are innate, and emerge spontaneously in early childhood according to Felix Warneken and Michael Tomasello, writing in the British Journal of Psychology. This coincides with a rise of positive psychology; and our current disparate need to hear some good news. In the current political, economic, and environmental climate, having something like kindness to believe in is vital for keeping us positive and hopeful.
On a personal level, I had the privilege of seeing my father practice many acts of kindness throughout his life, even though he had spent a dozen years in war zones as a solider in the British Army. And my mother and sister and aunts spoke about his acts of kindness towards others when we were in a POW camp as prisoners of the Japanese in Hong Kong in WWII. His example made an indelible impression on me growing up.
Some Research on Kindness
The Scottish Government values kindness so much that it included it in its National Performance Framework. The new framework outlines the purpose of the government. It also identifies outcomes all public institutions need to achieve. Their values statement is: “We are a society which treats all our people with kindness, dignity and compassion respects the rule of law and acts in an open and transparent way.”
Penelope Campling’s publication, Intelligent Kindness: Reforming the Culture of Healthcare, summarizes some of the evidence for the impact that kindness can have on our own brains. For example, she found that in altruistic individuals, increased activity in the posterior superior temporal cortex has been reported (when compared with less altruistic individuals).Individual acts of kindness release both endorphins and oxytocin, and create new neural connections. The implications for such plasticity of the brain are that altruism and kindness become self-authenticating Campling says. In other words, kindness can become a self-reinforcing habit requiring less and less effort to exercise.
Research by A.R. Landrum, C.M. Mills and A.M. Johnston has shown young children are surprisingly discerning about others. By age three they are already more trusting of claims made by nice people. The children showed a clear overall bias for believing the suggestions of the nicer person (70 per cent overall).
A study by Melanie Rudd, Jennifer Aaker, and Michael I. Norton concluded “Small, concrete goals designed to improve the well-being of others are more likely to lead to happiness for the giver than are acts with large, abstract goals–despite people’s intuitions to the contrary,” and keeping that fact in mind can provide a considerable boost to your well-being.
Kindness reaps great benefits for the giver. Research at Mayo Clinic shows that it can increase self-esteem, empathy, compassion, improve your mood and even help you live longer. Kindness can increase your sense of connectivity with others. It lessens loneliness and enhances relationships. Kindness can positively change your brain by increasing levels of dopamine and serotonin which give you pleasure, satisfaction and a sense of well-being. When the recipient of your kindness responds and smiles, your brain increases the “love hormone” oxytocin that adds even more pleasure. These studies reinforce what we’ve heard since childhood — it can be better to give than to receive.
Research has already established that there are four main forms of “reciprocity” that drive people to behave prosocially: wanting to do something nice for somebody who has been kind to you (direct reciprocity); doing good in the presence of people who might reward your generosity (reputational giving); paying it forward after experiencing kindness yourself (generalised reciprocity); or doing something for someone you’d seen be generous (rewarding reputation).
But most of these motivations have been studied individually: what happens when — as in real life — they all occur at once? In a new study published in Science Advances, David Melamed and colleagues found that people intrinsically want to help each other — even when those drivers seem like they are competing with one another.
Joseph Chancellor and colleagues showed in their research published in the journal Emotion, “Givers practiced 5 acts of kindness for a personalized list of Receivers over 4 weeks. We found that Givers and Receivers mutually benefited in well-being in both the short-term (e.g., on weekly measures of competence and autonomy) and the long-term (e.g., Receivers became happier after 2 months, and Givers became less depressed and more satisfied with their lives and jobs). In addition, Givers’ prosocial acts inspired others to act: Receivers paid their acts of kindness forward with 278% more prosocial behaviors than Controls. Our results reveal that practicing everyday prosociality is both emotionally reinforcing and contagious (inspiring kindness and generating hedonic rewards in others) and that receiving everyday prosociality is an unequivocally positive experience (which may further reinforce Givers’ actions).”
A study by Lee Roland and Oliver Scott Curry published in the Journal of Social Psychology reported on how people felt after performing or observing kind acts every day for seven days. Participants were randomly assigned to carry out at least one more kind act than usual for someone close to them, an acquaintance or stranger, or themselves, or to try to actively observe kind acts. Happiness was measured before and after the seven days of kindness. The researchers found that being kind to ourselves or to anyone else — yes, even a stranger — or actively observing kindness around us boosted happiness.
Keiko Otake and colleagues published research about kindness interventions and published their findings in the Journal of Happiness Studies. They found:” happy people scored higher on their motivation to perform kind behaviors; subjective happiness was increased simply by counting one’s own acts of kindness for one week; and happy people became more kind and grateful through the counting kindnesses intervention.”
A study published in the journal Motivation and Emotion by Lynn Alden and Jennifer Trew suggests that performing acts of kindness might help lessen social anxiety. Alden said “We found that any kind act appeared to have the same benefit, even small gestures like opening a door for someone or saying ‘thanks’ to the bus driver. Kindness didn’t need to involve money or time-consuming efforts, although some of our participants did do such things. Kindness didn’t even need to be ‘face to face’. For example, kind acts could include donating to a charity or putting a quarter in someone’s parking meter when you notice that it is blinking. Studies by other researchers suggest that it is important that the kind act is done for its own sake and that it not feel coerced or be done for personal benefit. Aside from that, anything goes.”
Lee Rowland, a Research Associate at the University of Oxford and Chartered Psychologist with KindLab writing in the Journal of Social Psychology, says “The very notion of kindness itself is entangled with other concepts such as altruism, compassion and prosocial behaviour. The essence of kindness, then, is more nuanced than we often consider. It is not a single thing, does not perfectly overlap with altruism and compassion, and has both behavioural and affective components. Cultivating and extending kindness is an important step in creating a kinder society Once goodness is established in social networks, the potential for prosocial behaviours and emotions to spread exists.”
A 2010 study published in the journal Personality, Kathryn Buchanan and Anat Bardi asked participants to carry out kind acts each day for 10 days. An increase in life satisfaction was observed compared with controls who did not engage in such practices.
In a six-week experiment led by Katharine Nelson and published in Emotion, participants were randomly assigned to carry out acts of kindness to others, or to the world/humanity or to themselves or were put in a control group which did not participate in such activity. The researchers reported that prosocial actions (other-kindness and world-kindness) led to greater psychological flourishing than those in the self-kindness or control groups.
In “Reactions to Random Acts of Kindness”, a study led by Kim Baskerville published in the Social Science Journal ,described how in one experiment people were approached at random in public places by the researcher and handed a flower with the comment “Have a nice day’” Coders judged and recorded the responses of the receivers, from very negative to extremely positive. The overall responses were not reported; however, males tended to respond more negatively than females, although more positively when the flower giver was a female.
In another study, led by Sarah Pressman and published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, more than 2000 “givers” spent 90 minutes carrying out “pay-it-forward” style acts ofkindness to unsuspecting receivers, such as holding doors open, high-fiving, paying someone’s parking meter, as well as handing out cookies and positive message cards. The givers facially coded the recipients. Receivers of kindness showed more smiling and more sincere smiles as rated by observers, compared with controls. Some of the receivers also paid the acts of kindness forward.
The Key Characteristics and Attributes of a Kind Person
Finding a scientifically-validated list of what it takes to be a kind person doesn’t exist. What we can do is glean this information from a variety of pieces of research. Following is a brief list of traits that surfaced again, and again.
- Good listening skills
- Engage in perspective-taking
What are the Benefits of Being Kind
- Kindness Makes us Happier
When we do something kind for someone else, we feel good. On a spiritual level, many people feel that this is because it is the right thing to do and so we’re tapping into something deep and profound inside of us that says, “This is who I am.” On a biochemical level, it is believed that the good feeling we get is due to elevated levels of the brain’s natural versions of morphine and heroin, which we know as endogenous opioids. They cause elevated levels of dopamine in the brain and so we get a natural high, often referred to as “Helper’s High”.
- Kindness Is Good for the Heart
Acts of kindness are often accompanied by emotional warmth. Emotional warmth produces the hormone, oxytocin, in the brain and throughout the body. Of recent interest is its significant role in the cardiovascular system. Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates (expands) the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and therefore oxytocin is known as a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone because it protects the heart (by lowering blood pressure). The key is that acts kindness can produce oxytocin and therefore kindness can be said to be cardioprotective.
- Kindness Slows Ageing
Ageing on a biochemical level is a combination of many things, but two culprits that speed the process are Free Radicals and Inflammation, both of which result from making unhealthy lifestyle choices. But remarkable research now shows that oxytocin (that we produce through emotional warmth) reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system and so slows ageing at source. Incidentally these two culprits also play a major role in heart disease so this is also another reason why kindness is good for the heart. There have also been suggestions in the scientific journals of the strong link between compassion and the activity of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve, as well as regulating heart rate, also controls inflammation levels in the body. One study that used the Tibetan Buddhist’s “Loving Kindness Compassion” (LKM) meditation found that kindness and compassion did, in fact, reduce inflammation in the body, mostly likely due to its effects on the vagus nerve.
- Kindness Improves Relationships
This is one of the most obvious points. We all know that we like people who show us kindness. This is because kindness reduces the emotional distance between two people and so we feel more “bonded’. It’s something that is so strong in us that it’s actually a genetic thing. We are wired for kindness. Our evolutionary ancestors had to learn to cooperate with one another. The stronger the emotional bonds within groups, the greater were the chances of survival and so “kindness genes” were etched into the human genome. So today when we are kind to each other we feel a connection and new relationships are forged, or existing ones strengthened.
- Kindness is Contagious
When we’re kind we inspire others to be kind and studies show that it actually creates a ripple effect that spreads outwards to our friends’ friends’ friends — to 3-degrees of separation. Just as a pebble creates waves when it is dropped in a pond, so acts of kindness ripple outwards touching others’ lives and inspiring kindness everywhere the wave goes. A study reported than an anonymous 28-year-old person walked into a clinic and donated a kidney. It set off a ‘pay it forward’ type ripple effect where the spouses or other family members of recipients of a kidney donated one of theirs to someone else in need. The ‘domino effect’, as it was called in the New England Journal of Medicine report, spanned the length and breadth of the United States of America, where 10 people received a new kidney as a consequence of that anonymous donor.
- Kindness reduces anxiety : Socially anxious participants who engaged in acts of kindness for four weeks showed a decrease in social avoidance goals. The authors concluded: “Engaging in acts of kindness is an effective way to reduce state-level social anxiety.”
- Nice guys finish first : Across three experiments, in a social dilemma game where participants could either benefit themselves or their group, the most altruistic members gained the highest status in their group. The authors reported: “Our findings unequivocally show that altruistic group members received more status. They were more respected, held in higher esteem, and were more likely to be chosen as group leaders.”
- Giving time gives you more time : Participants in a study spent their time writing and mailing a letter to a gravely ill child. Later that day, they perceived they had more time to themselves than did controls.
Which Acts of Kindness are Best?
Kindness.org’s mission is to educate and inspire people to choose kindness. They reported the following:
The organization reported: “To that end, have been developing a system for testing and evaluating the costs and benefits of different acts of kindness, and thereby identifying the most effective kind acts you can do for others. Our research team, in collaboration with researchers at Harvard University, spent the past several months compiling a list of over 1,000 acts of kindness — drawn from our community, and from popular and professional lists — to put to the test. We were planning a series of seven studies that would evaluate these acts — in schools, in workplaces, and in everyday life, in different cultures around the world — and help us replace random acts of kindness with recommended acts of kindness. However, when COVID-19 brought our world to a halt, we saw an opportunity — and felt a responsibility — to investigate what kind acts are most effective now, in the middle of this crisis.”
According to Kindness.org’s survey, the Top Ten Most Beneficial Kind Acts are:
- Wash your hands.
- Take care of a family member who is sick.
- Cover your mouth when you cough.
- Make a donation to people hit especially hard by the economic shutdown.
- Cook a nutritious and delicious meal to share with your family.
- Buy groceries for someone.
- Arrange video visits with elderly relatives.\
- Video call your parents, grandparents.
- Get shopping and other essentials for a neighbor.
- Tell a child what you’re proud of them for.
Kindness in the Business Workplace
Kindness is not the first word we associate with business. The image of business still largely includes old scenes from industrial America in the early twentieth century: the age of hard work and tough bosses. As the machines heated, spun, milled, and bore, managerial overlords paced factory floors counting the output and pressing employees to produce more and more. This was not the place for weak-kneed supervisors and executives. Forbearance was not a principle of Taylorism and the new scientific management, which adduced tightly choreographed movements between man and machine. The goal was to keep production lines efficiently moving by any means necessary. The only thing worse than workers who wouldn’t work was a soft manager who couldn’t make them.
Today, the pressure for unremitting productivity from the forces of fierce competition in the global marketplace continues. New, unforeseen market entrants can suddenly emerge from anywhere in the world with a new technology, better business model, or improved product, to exploit a company’s weaknesses and rob it of customers. Meanwhile, traditional competitors are always lying in wait for a missed order, a slip in quality, or a lapse in service. The margin of error is very thin, and befuddled, wishy-washy executives who can’t manage to the numbers are expendable. We would agree, but the premises of operational precision, rigorous financial oversight, and market wariness that belie organizational success often lead in an unpromising direction: back to the lords of the shop floor and a falsely constructed ideal of an overly severe leader.
We mistake the need for precision with the need for managerial control, the need for oversight with the need for corporate autocracy, and the need for vigilance with the need for icy objectivity and personal detachment. We conclude that what every business presumably needs is a leader who is calculative, single-minded in the financial purposes of the enterprise, and, perhaps, competitive to a fault: to the point of being overbearingly aggressive and belligerent. In this new age of competitiveness, we assume that managers who are incapable or unwilling to grimly snip away at expenses, to relentlessly push employees, and to be unyieldingly tough are too compromised to succeed in a harsh and unforgiving business world.
In the workplace researchers looked at what differences appeared among co-workers after a month that was dosed with a few extra acts of kindness and those who went about their day as usual? “The acts of kindness don’t go unnoticed. The receivers observed more prosocial behaviors in the office and by the end of the study, they were reporting ten times more prosocial behaviors than the controls. In addition, receivers’ level of ‘felt autonomy’ — essentially how much they felt in control of their days at work — were higher than controls,” reports the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest blog.
Katherine Nelson and colleagues published research in the Journal of Positive Psychology which showed that acts of kindness in the workplace increased subjects autonomy and competence.
One study found that people treated kindly at work repay the gesture by being 278% more generous to their co-workers than a control group. Not only that but it found kindness sparks increased well-being in the workplace, which, in turn, creates higher energy levels and an increase in positive perspectives and problem solving.
A study published in Emotion led by Joseph Chancellor and colleagues speaks to just this. The researchers studied workers from Coca Cola’s Madrid site, a group of mostly female employees from a range of departments. Participants were told they were part of a happiness study, and once a week for four weeks they checked in to report how they were feeling, in terms of mood and life satisfaction, and their experience of positive and negative behaviours, including how many they had carried out towards others, and how many others had made towards them. Four weeks later, the participants completed further measures, such as of their happiness and job satisfaction.
Unbeknownst to most of the group, 19 of the participants were in cahoots with the researchers: they were “givers” whose task each week was to perform acts of kindness towards some of their co-workers (they were to refrain from showing kindness to other co-workers who served as a control group). It was up to the givers what generous acts they performed — Chancellor’s team wanted to make sure these participants had autonomy in what they did, rather than obeying an injunction– examples of the favours they performed included bringing someone a drink, and emailing a thank-you note.
So what did a month of extra kindness mean for the workers who were on the receiving end, for the givers, and for the organisation as a whole?
The acts of kindness don’t go unnoticed. The receivers observed more prosocial behaviours in the office and by the end of the study, they were reporting ten times more prosocial behaviours than the controls. In addition, receivers’ level of “felt autonomy” — essentially how much they felt in control of their days at work — were higher than controls over the course of the study, although it’s worth noting that this was because autonomy dropped in controls while it held steady in the receivers. One month after the study ended, the receivers were also enjoying significantly higher levels of happiness than controls.
Giving was itself rewarding, and on some indicators more rewarding than receiving. The givers saw the same preserved autonomy enjoyed by receivers, and additionally saw benefit to their sense of competency (again relative to declining control scores) — presumably decorating Nuria’s monitor with a smiley face made of post-its reminds you of your creative potential. The givers’ one-month follow-up measures were also more impressive than the receivers’: they enjoyed higher levels of life satisfaction and job satisfaction, and fewer depressive symptoms. This suggests that in this context, giving had a more durable effect than receiving.
So workplace acts of kindness — freely chosen — appear to be a way to create virtuous cycles within organisations, benefiting the recipients, the givers, and the climate at large. Just get the goodness started, and enjoy its growth all around you
Kindness in Leadership
Kind leaders treat others with respect, communicate with compassion, listen intently, share information transparently, accommodate employees’ personal issues, offer advice, encourage subordinates’ career growth, motivate employees without resorting to negativity, adapt to change, recognize employees’ talent and contributions, and prioritize fairness and inclusivity.
To lead with kindness, we must have compassion, which provides employees with the sense of security that they need to perform; integrity, which means acting based on values, keeping promises, and combating biases; gratitude, meaning to appreciate others’ work; authenticity, which means that leaders must show that they’re genuine; humility, which means remaining grounded and down-to-earth; and humor, which eases tension and boosts morale.
Ovul Sezer, Kelly Nault, and Nadav Klein writing in Harvard Business Review, argued that “Organizations benefit from actively fostering kindness. In workplaces where acts of kindness become the norm, the spillover effects can multiply fast. When people receive an act of kindness, they pay it back, research shows — and not just to the same person, but often to someone entirely new. This leads to a culture of generosity in an organization.” In their landmark study analyzing more than 3,500 business units with more than 50,000 individuals, researchers found that acts of courtesy, helping, and praise were related to core goals of organizations. Higher rates of these behaviors were predictive of productivity, efficiency, and lower turnover rates. They concluded “When leaders and employees act kindly towards each other, they facilitate a culture of collaboration and innovation.”
Gay Haskins, Alison Gill and Lalit Johri, argue in their book, Kindness in Leadership, that it’s time we all became kinder. They conducted a survey of 200 leaders from public and private institutions. These leaders came from around the world. The authors wanted to understand how leaders perceived their role after the 2008 global economic crisis. After that crisis and other issues, trust in public and private organizations eroded in the UK and US. The researchers also wanted to know what role, if any, kindness has in business operations.
Study participants indicated that there needed to be a move toward a relational management style. The authors described the role of leader kindness involved several actions:
- fostering a sense of inclusion
- accommodating personal issues
- treating others respectfully
- generosity in giving and receiving
- caring and being responsive
- communicating with a personal touch
- being transparent
- explaining information logically
- giving time and active listening
- valuing differing perspectives
- giving honest and constructive feedback
- counseling and mentoring
- embracing diversity and tolerance
Boris Groysberg and Susan Seligson writing in Harvard Business Review Working Knowledge say that “the pandemic has challenged managers as never before, but one powerful leadership strategy is being overlooked: Be kind.”
The authors sought input from 200 leaders around the world in public and private sectors in both large and small organisations. A number of these had been participants on Saïd Business School’s Oxford Advanced Management and Leadership Programme, and others came from the authors’ own wide networks, including members of EFMD and European Women’s Management Development Network (EWMD).
Irrespective of their country of origin, these worldwide leaders emphasized that kindness in leadership has a universal appeal and is characterised by a variety of kindness-based behaviours. These included: adopting a humane approach; fairness and equity; accommodating personal issues; treating others with respect; caring and being responsive; communicating with a personal touch; sharing information in a transparent way; explaining logically; listening intently, and valuing the views of others; counselling and mentoring; and being inclusive as a leader.
A garment finishing company in Bangladesh, for example, showed kindness through the provision of nutritious meals to all employees to ensure their health and wellbeing. At a large retail chain in Turkey, the foremost element in the code of conduct is respect.
A large number of respondents reported that they avoided impersonal emails or written office memos to communicate on personally sensitive issues, preferring instead to deal with issues via one-to-one or small group meetings. Simple gestures were found to matter a great deal. Vivian Unt, owner-manager of the Vivian Vaushoe salon in Estonia, said: “Most commonly, kindness is expressed through little gestures that are not part of required conduct but are said and done because they make people feel good”.
The leaders also subscribed to beliefs that gave them a rationale for adopting kindness in their leadership style. In many cases these became part of the values and culture of the organisation that they led. These included beliefs that:
- people are central to the success of any organisation, contributing to success through their imagination, vision, inspiration, problem solving abilities and personal drive.
- equity and fairness are important ideals in enhancing employee self-confidence and loyalty.
- respect and care stimulate ownership and commitment.
The authors argue that “these examples suggest that these kinds of leadership behaviours and strong beliefs in the value of kindness can positively impact the culture of an organisation, its well-being, and performance. For employees, kindness can result in greater happiness and contentment, higher motivation and energy, higher engagement and participation, and greater loyalty and commitment. The relationship between teams and management have also been found to be more creative, innovative, collaborative and positive when trust is more prevalent.”
Kindness is teachable. Ritchie Davidson of the University of Wisconsin has compared practicing kindness and compassion to weight training: “People can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help,” he said. Great leaders attest that it is not a sign of weakness or relinquishing authority to be consistently kind and to offer encouragement and show genuine interest in employees’ mental well-being in punishing times.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is both forceful and compassionate, remarked that one of the criticisms she’s faced over the years is that “I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.”
Eva Ritvo, writing in Psychology Today argues that kind bosses ” have been shown to increase morale, decrease absenteeism and retain employees longer. Kind bosses may even prolong the lives of their employees by decreasing their stress levels which improves cardiovascular health.
Research released by Signature Consultants, a leading IT and professional staffing and solutions provider, uncovered a clear connection between the practice of kind leadership and a company’s ability to create an environment which facilitates and supports innovation. In fact, according to the groundbreaking Humankindex Survey of U.S. workers, leading with kindness is the most effective leadership style to drive innovation and competitive advantage in the marketplace.
A key component of the research is an index created to measure and track companies’ adoption and practice of kindness, called the Humankindex. Using a range from 1 to 100, the Humankindex calculates the degree to which U.S. companies and their leaders are adopting kindness as a core value and leadership style, as well as the impact on fostering innovation in the workplace using two components:
- Kindness Quotient — the degree a company practices a culture and leadership of kindness and the extent to which it is felt by individual employees.
- Innovation Capability — how well the organization’s culture and leadership support and promote an innovative environment and the extent to which it is felt by individual employees.
In its first annual release, the Humankindex for all U.S. companies is 58 and comprised of a Kindness Quotient of 31.5 and Innovation Capability of 26.5. According to U.S. workers, companies are more likely to be considered innovative when elements of kindness exist in the culture and leadership, including:
- 78% more likely if kindness is considered a core value of the organization.
- 5X more likely if employees feel a shared sense of purpose between their job and the organization’s leadership and goals.
- 28% more likely if the company’s leadership style is to “lead with kindness.”
On the whole, when companies score higher on elements of the Kindness Quotient, they are 5X more likely to be considered innovative by employees.
“Kind leadership is a principle we have long-believed is not only the right cornerstone for our culture, but also the most effective way to drive success for our business and for those who contribute to it every day,” says Mahfuz Ahmed, Chief Executive Officer, Signature Consultants and DISYS. “We believe the COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified and expedited the potency of kindness in the workplace. With our Humankindex initiative, we now have data-based research to support the premise that linking mission and margin, kindness and knowledge, and profit and principle, can deliver considerable and measurable benefits.”
The Humankindex research reports some distressing trends during the COVID-19 pandemic.According to the findings, nearly one-third (30%) of workers say their company’s leadership has embraced kindness as a value less so since the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, 76% of workers say their company’s leadership has embraced the value of “profits before people” the same or more since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In our reshaped world, kind leadership and values have proved to best inspire trust, inspiration, meaning, and innovation among today’s workers,” said Ahmed. “Yet, many have overlooked kindness as a powerful leadership quality, often mistaking it with niceness and a weakness. On the contrary, the aggressive, cutthroat ‘survival of the fittest’ approach has been replaced by a more humanistic approach to leadership and the ‘survival of the kindest.’ Our research has shown there is power in kindness, strength in kind leadership, and profitability in purpose, perhaps more so than any other time in recent history. As we work to put the pandemic behind us, kind leadership will play a significant role in helping employers win the battle for talent and strive toward innovation. ”
How Leaders Can Show More Kindness
The pandemic is not a time for a stern, iron-fisted approach to leadership and management. The virus’s vast fallout demands a kinder, gentler approach. What can CEOs and managers do to infuse their leadership with kindness and empathy? Here are straightforward, effective ways to practice kindness as a matter of course:
“I hear you.” Really listen. Be fully present and don’t judge. Encourage employees’ questions and concerns. Listen actively — no side glances at the phone. “When someone shares that they’re struggling, you won’t always know what to say or do,” write Kelly Greenwood and Natasha Krol in Harvard Business Review. “What’s most important is to make space to hear how your team members are truly doing and to be compassionate. They may not want to share much detail, which is completely fine. Knowing that they can is what matters.”
“Are you okay?” Show a willingness to provide comfort and monitor for signs of distress such as social withdrawal and poor performance. Know when to refer an employee to get professional help.
“What can we do to help?” It may be as simple as validating an employee’s personal challenges during the pandemic. But being kind might also involve taking an active role in offering mental health resources or creating a virtual support group or sounding board.
“How are you managing these days?” According to the MIT Sloan Management Review, “some companies are creating deeper insights into the specific situations their workforces face by surveying home workers.” What they’ve found is that being single and working under quarantine alone carries a very different set of stresses than being a member of a working family with young children. For employees experiencing the pangs of social isolation, one company launched daily virtual coffee breaks. For those working while caring for children, leaders must be sensitive to issues of exhaustion and the difficulty of working during pre-pandemic office hours. “Leadership signaling that working unorthodox hours is okay could make a real difference to their stress levels,” according to the article.
“I’m here for you.” Let your employees know routinely that you are there for them when they need to share concerns or simply require a sympathetic, nonjudgmental ear. Consider making yourself available at times outside work hours; these are not normal times.
“I know you’re doing the best you can.” This statement is, with few exceptions, true. In scores of first-person accounts and on social media, people are reporting they are working harder than they did pre-COVID. This makes perfect sense; as layoffs and furloughs skyrocket, employees live in fear of losing their jobs. In times of crisis, bosses must alter their expectations. As Bryce Covert wrote in a New York Times op-ed,“Keeping output steady while maintaining our physical and mental health just cannot be done. We have to work less, and employers have to get on board.” Public schools are closed in a majority of states, most child care services have ceased operations, and a majority of couples with school-age children both have jobs. “These working parents are logging on after the kids are asleep and answering emails before they wake. Bosses must acknowledge how incredibly hard this has been.” But as Covert noted, “far too often, employers are acting as if little has changed. Their employees are responding to their expectations by working themselves even harder. Enough.”
Recognize, kindly. Celebrate the successes of others you work with. Global research, from the O.C. Tanner Institute, shows that when employees were asked what their boss or company could do to inspire them to strive for better results, recognition was, hands down, the number one answer. It was bigger than pay increases, promotions, training, and autonomy. Celebrating is kind.
Give feedback, kindly. A 10-year study by Harvard Business Review shows that the biggest reason second-rate executives don’t move up, is their inability to create trusting relationships. As leaders, sometimes we have to tell employees when they’re not meeting expectations. Critical conversations are tough, but can actually build trust, if their handled with kindness — meaning you actually have a desire to help an employee become their best, rather than just improving your numbers.
What would it do to our society if kindness became elevated in importance? It has been fashionable over the last few decades to devote oneself to pursuing ‘happiness’ and to becoming ‘mindful’ — this, so positive psychology says, is the route to a good life. But there has been a backlash against this individualistic and inward-focused approach to living. The real value in directing one’s attention to helping other people is perhaps that it gives meaning to life, in a way that self-attention never can.
The beauty of kindness is that it is open to anyone. We can all opt to choose kindness if we wish. It is free, easily accessible to rich and poor alike, and is universally understood. Thus, if it turns out that simple acts of everyday kindness can send ripple effects of wellbeing through society, then promoting and facilitating that has to be a constructive pursuit. And when leaders embrace kindness as a value and key behavior, the positive impact on the organization is powerful.
Also read these other articles of mine:Does Wealth Make You Less Empathetic and Compassionate? And Why We Need More Empathy in the Workplace.
Read my latest books:Toxic Bosses: Practical Wisdom for Developing Wise, Ethical and Moral Leaders available on Amazon in paperback, ebook and hardcover editions.
I Know Myself and Neither Do You: Why Charisma, Confidence and Pedigree Won’t Take You Where You Want To Go, available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble in paperback and ebooks.