As a rambunctious child, I was constantly being counseled, re-directed, and [insert any other word for “disciplined”]. My mother would always partner her discipline with the phrase, “Todd, kindness matters.” I did not have much context for this simple phrase at age four, so I filed it away in the mental folder titled “stuff my mom says.”
Fast forward two decades when I met my future wife in college. I immediately knew there was something special about her. She genuinely cared about everyone she came in contact with. Kindness mattered to Deb, and it was evident in how she treated others.
Fast forward another decade. You can imagine my surprise when I came home from work one day to find Deb had bought some new home furnishings, including a sign now hanging in our kitchen that reads: “Kindness Matters.”
People described as “kind” are often thought of as being generous, compassionate, gracious, tolerant, and helpful. These same descriptors are how I would like to be referred to as a business leader. Being kind in good times is easy. But, being a kind leader in challenging times is far more difficult.
Though I’ve worn wear many professional hats – from real estate to risk management to legal – building Human Resources teams that value kindness has always been top priority.
Wait, more than helping the company hit its quarterly sales goals? More than winning awards and getting good press? More than…making money? Yes. A lot more.
Unfortunately, business success and kindness are a lot more related than many leaders realize.
My time at ExactTarget really brought this realization home. CEO Scott Dorsey was well-known as a kind, compassionate, and genuinely-interested-in-you leader. Even when the company grew to more than 3,000 employees around the world, he retained an uncanny ability to remember employees’ names, personal interests and situations, and individual impact on the business. Talk about modeling kindness from the top down.
When I began building and developing my Human Resources organization, I made it a priority to show the same level of kindness and interest to my team and every employee we encountered. I’d learned that leaders must not only lead by example, but also foster an environment where kindness is expected.
But, showing kindness isn’t always easy. The stresses of running a business are many and varied. Well-intentioned people often lose sight of what is important when they are managing stressful situations. HR teams routinely deal with uncomfortable situations, performance and discipline issues, and complaints. In the face of adversity, conflict, hurt feelings, and unkindness, HR professionals must intentionally rise above.
Creating a team which values, expects, and models kindness to and from others was the best decision I ever made as a leader. It influenced who I hired (big time) and (almost always) who we fired.
A culture of kindness isn’t the ‘norm’ in the business world – especially not amongst leaders. But, it should be. It can be.
Simply put, being kind is the right thing to do. I challenge all leaders and employees to approach interactions with an attitude of kindness so that regardless of business outcomes, their legacy of kindness endures. Those ripples continue far beyond what the eye can see.
As a leader, you must show kindness — and expect it from others. Only then can you foster an engaged culture and forge a legacy you’ll be proud of for years to come. Remember, people do not always remember what you say but they do remember how you made them feel.
However you define “kindness,” it matters.
Note: See my original blog post “Kindness Matters” in Forefront Magazine.