‘Are you alright?’ This was me asking my then boss’s PA some years ago. I noticed that she seemed a bit subdued and was doing the usual stiff upper lip thing and telling me she was alright, but I knew something was amiss. I felt she was just about holding it together, so I didn’t pry any further. On my lunch break, I bought her a card and wrote in it ‘whatever it is, you will find your way through it’. Later that day she invited me for coffee and confided that her husband had been diagnosed with cancer. This was of course heavy stuff and I had no idea what to say, so I just sat and listened and ate cake with her. I found out months later that I was the first person that she told, even before the rest of her family. Odd isn’t it, that she would tell someone in the workplace first?

Kindness is such basic human instinct but for some reason, when we get to the workplace, it is parked outside as we get ready to go play hardball. The workplace becomes a dog eat dog world and it is survival of the fittest. Kindness to some, is seen as a weakness and this is such a shame because it takes it’s toll on wellbeing in the workplace and has a negative impact on the bottom line. A hostile work environment leads to more absenteeism and lowers productivity. Any manager who wants to lead a good team needs to build kindness into their playbook. As Henry James said:

Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind, the second is to be kind and third is to be kind.                                                                                                  

There is research to show that when it comes to kindness:

  • Both givers and recipients benefit in well-being in the short and long term.
  • Givers became less depressed and more satisfied with their lives and job
  • Kindness is contagious; recipients feel inspired to be kind to others.

Business change takes effect quicker when behaviour is cascaded from the top down, so managers adopting kind practices can quickly change the culture of an organisation due to contagion. The other win is that the managers become more satisfied with their lives and jobs when they are kind. Surely this will lead to better performing managers which in turn will lead to high functioning teams which in turn will translate to the bottom line?

I used to manage a team of technical IT consultants and our team meetings were on Monday mornings, and this was the high point of my week. For the first ten minutes we would do a round table where everyone had to share something they had done, unrelated to work. Apart from this resulting in howls of laughter, this was precious insight for me, as to what was going on behind the scenes with individual members of the team. It was the kind of ‘intel’ I needed to appreciate when to cut someone some slack or when to let someone know they had to pull their socks up. Also, because this was a round table, everyone had to speak, and this meant the quiet ones in the team had to pipe up. This created a feeling of safety and made everyone feel they had a voice and something to contribute.

“Kindness in words creates confidence, kindness in thinking creates profoundness, kindness in giving creates love.”

Lao Tsu

When a leader gives kindness in words to subordinates, it gives them confidences and allows them to feel safe and to blossom. That safety leads to loyalty. We also know from research that kindness is contagious so once team members see the boss being kind, they emulate that behaviour and before you know, it snowballs. Have you ever worked in a team where you couldn’t wait to get to work? Everyone was so supportive, and you felt like you were with the A team? If you looked closely, you will find that it was because you had a kind boss. No one was made to feel like an idiot in meetings! Kind bosses look for how to support the weakest link, rather than who can be taken out and shot!

For the kind leaders, there is something for you too. You get to feel good about yourself and build a productive high performing team and save your organisation money by retaining your staff. You are only as good as your team allow you to be, remember that.

I for one I am stumped as to why kindness is not at the forefront of all company policy. The policy that should be incorporated in all organisations’ ways of working should be:

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible”. Dalai Lama

Needless to say, my boss’s PA who I shared the coffee and cake with, made sure from that point on, whenever I needed a slot in the boss’ diary, I got it. This proved to be such an asset in my career progression. That one kindness I showed her kept yielding benefits until I left the organisation.

What small act of kindness are you going to perform in the workplace today? Everyone wins when there is kindness.