As a leader - in charities, in education, in government, in business - kindness is often presented as a weakness. As a nice to have. As part of 'wokeness'. The choice of snowflakes.
But. Tell me a business that can survive if they are seen as inconsiderate? Or the staff team that can thrive if people are not generous with their time, their knowledge or their efforts? How can companies welcome guests if they are unfriendly? What chance charity if they cannot consider the needs of others?
Kindness is a business imperitive. But it also a human imperitive. At a society level it is the glue that creates social capital. It is the underpinning of the relationships that we will need to find the solutions to face the future.
And on personal level it is the protective factor that supports mental and physical well being and connects us to what it means to be - well - human.
Kindness is easier to those we love. To those we like. To our family and friends. And even then it can be a challenge (#apologises to husband).
But we are entering a time when we are increasingly divided into camps.
We are facing losses; of health, of livelihood, of way of life. And we are being encouraged by state and media to see others as threat - to report on our neighbours and to blame others for our lot.
We are all facing challenging times. Personally. Professionally. Health. Finance. Juggling. Anxious for future. And as part of that kindness can be even harder as anger and fear seep into our thinking and behaviours.
The furloughed colleague is angry at the colleague who is still working for being on full pay. The colleague still at work is angry at working 60 hour weeks. The person who has been shielding is jealous of those able to go out and about. The fit 20 year old resents losing their summer travel during lockdown. Arts versus hospitality versus beauty salons versus every sector making their case for support. The North is fed up with a focus on London. London small businesses see homeworking as ending them.
In the workplace as furlough ends and organisations are making impossible choices a sense of 'why me not them' filters through organisations and whole sectors.
These things make it harder to be kind. Social media and a lack of in person interactions can make it harder still.
So. How can we as leaders model kindness?
Well I am certainly capable of being unkind but I try not to be. I choose to try and be kind as an active decision. And for me three things help with this:
- getting in the frame of mind to be kind
- knowing how to be kind
- practising kindness
Getting in the right frame of mind to be kind
1.Apply the principle of charity
The Principle of Charity is that we should interpret ambiguous claims or ambiguous evidence in the most positive way possible in the way they refer to the people concerned.
Broadly - 'assume cock up not conspiracy.' Assume people mean well and that they intend to be kind. In changing how you view their behaviour you are more likely to change your response.
2. Know how you are feeling affects how you respond
It's harder to be kind when you are tired or hungry or your head hurts and the kids are playing a drum (#apologises to children).
So know that. If you can wait to respond wait. But at the very least understand how what you are feeling is affecting what you are saying.
3. Know that you can never see what someone else is going through
You don't have to fix it. You really don't even need to know it. But know that just because they may seem better off/not stressed/coping doesn't mean that they are.
And with this avoid the false divides.
"Make her redundant because her husband works" (her career matters massively to her identity and her husband has left her so she is supporting two households)
"He isn't wearing a mask because he doesn't care about people" (he's autistic and the material over his face gives him a panic attack which means he would never go out)
"It's ok for management" (they wake up at 4am thinking about the people they need to let go)
"They want us all to stay at home and lose our freedoms" (three of their family members are clinically vulnerable and they don't want to lose them)
It is of course a truth that some people have more capacity to deal with challenges than others - financial support, social network, health,well-being - but that does not mean that these people are 'having it easy'. A culture of kindness doesn't pit people against each other
4. Check your motive
When you need to challenge someone. When you are commenting on someone else's behaviour - check your motive.
Being kind does not mean that you will never have to do something that might upset someone. Across the country people are having essential but difficult discussions .
But consider your motive. Is it because you want to affect positive change? It is something you have to do - like redundancy discussions or feeding back on performance? Ok - then use the steps here to do that effectively. But - if it is to 'win' or have a 'gotcha' moment then step back. Think again.
How to be kind
Much of kindness comes from getting in the right mind to be kind. Most people most of time want to do no harm and most want to be kind. Positioning self in right place will help. But what are some of the practical steps to being kind?
5. Choose words wisely
We know the rules on this. No 'ad hominem' attacks - focus on the behaviour not the person. Outline the change you would like to see. Offer solutions. Listen as much as you talk.
6. Say sorry
You will get it wrong. We all do. We are all sometimes unkind. Say sorry without qualifiers. Own it, put it right, move on.
Note: kindness is a good principle for most people most of the time. But it is not the same as being a push over or accepting the unacceptable. Many abusive people count on their victims wanting to be be kind. Turn it round. Are they being generous or considerate to you? Are they applying the steps above? If not be prepared to cut them out. Unkind people have no place. They are toxic.
Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty
7. Go beyond
Small acts of kindness count. Things that you don't need to do but are considerate or generous. Say thanks to someone who has influenced. Post something postive on social media. Share luck. Send someone a song they might like.
And while finances are tight don't underestimate the value of small things that can be touched - reality in a digital world. Seeds, second hand books, postcards, a bottle of beer, plant cuttings, a DVD - all fit in the post and bring a smile.
This fabulous book by Bernadette Russell has great ideas that can work for us all.
8. Be kind to self
We often find this the hardest thing to do. I work hard to apply the steps in here to myself but fail often #apologises to self. But if we are kind to self we often find it easier to be kind to others. I am a better mother, wife, friend, boss and colleague when I sometimes I consider myself first.
Kindness is right in and of itself. But – as this piece started – it is also going to be core to how we adapt for a lifetime with COVID and its consequences. There is no ‘after COVID normal’. The repercussions of the virus even if not the virus itself are here for a generation. And with that new divides. The tensions in society are palpable.
This is one of my favourite images. Kindness builds connections.
Being kind isn’t the easy way out. It doesn’t absolve us of making difficult choices or fighting bad behaviours. But it does give us a framework to make the human connections that will help us rebuild.
Be kind. Build sandcastles.
Concrete filled sandcastles if needbe.
First published on LinkedIn, 12th October 2020,