The Boardroom series: Cultivating kindness in the workplace

It seems odd to say that kindness is a hot topic, however it sometimes feels to me like it is. So much so that when you type “books on kindness” into Google, there are nearly 3 million results within a second. 

Having said that, while I often see people reading these books, talking about the importance of kindness, and making big commitments to ‘random acts of kindness’ or grand gestures of generosity, these very often eclipse the importance of small moments of kindness. The kind of kindness that is shown by taking time for someone, even when you are busy; apologising to someone, rather than blaming someone or something else; thanking someone who has tried to help, even when the outcome is not as you hoped.

We can all be kind, every single day. And it is not always about big gestures, small actions can speak volumes. So, this week, in line with 17 February 2022, Random Act of Kindness day, I am going to offer a few tips on bringing kindness into your workplace.

What does it mean to be kind?

Before we dive into the “how to” of this article, it is important to step back and ask ourselves, what does it really mean to be kind?

To do so, I invite you to think about:

  • What is the kindest thing someone has done for you in your career?
  • What is the kindest thing you have done for someone in the workplace?
  • Why were these things meaningful? What did you perceive as “kind” about these moments?

By answering these questions, you will start to generate your own definition of kindness. This is important as I don’t want to prescribe a single definition of kindness; it is very personal. We must remember this when we consider offering kindness to someone else, as what might seem kind to you, might not be deemed so in their eyes. This brings us back to the topic of empathy, which I wrote about in my last article. To be kind to someone else, we have to consider the world from their frame of reference.

It is also important to be aware of the difference between long-term kindness and short-term kindness. What might feel kind to someone in the short-term, might not be the kindest thing to do if we consider the long-term implications. 

For example, when it comes to developing team members, if every time a new challenge arises, we do the challenging task for them, or solve the problem without giving them the chance to do so themselves, we can stunt their growth, limit the opportunities they get to learn and develop their own potential. Therefore, the kinder approach might be to allow them the space to try something new, make mistakes, and be supportive to them as they do so.

Cultivating kindness in the workplace

So, how do we practice this in the workplace? Well, quite simply, remember small actions often speak the loudest and we don’t need to make big gestures to make a difference.

Here are three ways to make kindness part of your company culture:

  1. Perhaps the most obvious, make time to ask people how they are and really listen to the answer. Most people might say “fine” when you ask “how are you?”, but do you take the time to notice when their expression contradicts their words? Do you ask them to tell you what is making them “fine”, “ok” or “not bad”? This is a very simple way to show kindness to someone every single day, take a real interest in their wellbeing.
  2. Celebrate achievements and success more meaningfully. When I am doing consultancy work or focus groups with teams, I consistently hear that a personal note of thanks for good work, or a 2-minute call from a senior leader to say thank you for something makes more of a difference to how people feel about a company and their work than their paycheque, bonus, or benefits.
  3. Encourage your team to recognise kindness in each other. By shining a spotlight on existing acts of kindness in your business, you will naturally inspire others to replicate such actions. It creates a positive ripple of pro-social behaviour which not only boosts morale, workplace satisfaction and loyalty, but reaps results from a business perspective, improving performance, reducing stress, and boosting resilience. You could start with enabling people to nominate other team members for acts of kindness that they have seen over the last year.

And, of course, to create a team culture of kindness, we need to apply this in the boardroom too. So, how can you bring kindness into the boardroom?

  1. Listen more. I often see that senior leaders are so keen to share their own view, that they forget to be patient and open-minded when others are expressing conflicting views. The success of a board is based on different people with different views coming together to work towards a shared vision.
  2. Take ownership of imperfection. Again, from what I see, I know it can be all too easy for leaders to fall into habits of trying to protect their teams or defend their actions by blaming external factors or people. While errors or difficulty might be the result of events outside of our control, taking responsibility for the outcome can be an act of kindness, and authentic leadership.
  3. Offer support to each other. One quote that sticks with me, from my research into CEO wellbeing and leadership burnout, is “it’s lonely at the top”. Don’t forget that everyone needs support sometimes, and that includes those in the most senior roles in an organisation. For directors and senior leaders, it can be hard to ask for help, making it all-the-more important for those of you in these roles to proactively reach out to each other and offer support so everyone knows it is available when it is needed.

Kindness is a practice, and one we can practise every day, regardless of our environment. As a final invitation to start cultivating kindness, I would like to bring you back to the first question I asked you in this article: What is the kindest thing someone has done for you in your career? Please share your thoughts below, tagging and thanking the person, to make your first ripple in a global movement of kindness this week.

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