Kindness, role models

Why Genuine Kindness Separates the Grown-ups from the Children in Leadership

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

This quote, one of my all-time favorites, sums up the call we all have to be (genuinely) human with each other.  The genuine part means we’re not kind simply out of a sense of obligation – to check off a few metaphorical boxes of what we think is expected.  We’re not kind out of a sense of manipulation, just to get what we want. We’re kind because we genuinely want to be there for another person.  This means we have to let go of our protective armor separating us from others and just be good humans.

A recent Gallup survey revealed a startling statistic: only 45% of employees feel their employer cares about their well-being. That’s less than half.

Nearly two years into a global pandemic, there is no doubt that leaders and employees continue to face challenging times in their work relationships, heightened by the ever-present threats of COVID.

Kindness as a Leadership Strategy?

Back in late 2020, Boris Groysberg and Susan Seligson highlighted the unprecedented trials faced by leaders in a Harvard Business School article. And one influential leadership strategy had seemingly been neglected: kindness.

It is a time to think out of the box, for sure, to solve the complexities the pandemic has brought upon us.

But let’s not forget about each other in the process.
We cannot overlook a basic yet powerful principle that works wonders everywhere: kindness.

We’re all overwhelmed and stressed out – every single one of us, even when some might appear “fine.” Not one person walking this earth is unaffected.

Many of our employees are doubling up on work – not only working from home, but also homeschooling kids and playing caregiver roles to children and parents alike as well. Those with no support network may feel isolated.

Our cherished routines have been upended as the world tries to cope, yearning for some normalcy during a seemingly never-ending pandemic.

In the midst of such trying times, it has never been more important be genuinely kind to each other.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Philo

Kindness: A Soothing Balm in Today’s World

In the hectic pace of life, we sometimes overlook the simple – and wonderful – power of kindness.

Why?

Because it is so simple. It’s not something that we can buy. It isn’t something necessarily hard to do. But we do need to be in the mindset to do it. And that often requires a specific intention when we are stressed-out and overwhelmed.

Instead of being caught up in negativity, overlooking the good that is taking place, remember that kindness is a powerful tool.

Harvard Business Review reminds us of the far-reaching benefits of kindness such as:

  • Presenting a win-win to everyone: the Giver and the Receiver. Being acknowledged at work lifts an employee up and helps to lessen burnout and absenteeism.
  • Boosting self-esteem and optimism about circumstances – which can result in a ripple effect of positivity.
  • Deepening the meaning of life. When we’re kind, we’re contributing to someone else, and as a result, how others perceive us is shaped. As such, we are creating meaning for ourselves and others.
  • Raising the vibration of any team or organization where it is present.

A Harvard Business School article aptly titled “Good Leadership is an Act of Kindness,” reminds us that the positive effects of kindness go even further. For example, bosses who are kind may even lengthen their employees lives by lessening their stress, which in turn leads to a healthier heart.

Not to mention that when leaders are genuinely kind, more people will want to do great work for them, creating a virtuous snowball effect.  We all know what it feels like to be part of the opposite phenomenon.

The bottom line: kindness (or lack thereof) can have a tremendous impact on our lives.

Holding Back on Compliments? Witness Its Power.

Kindness is catchy. Once we receive someone’s selfless words or actions, we often suddenly want to do our part to spread it. That’s the beauty of it. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Consider Stephen Cannon, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, who realized success was much more than just vehicles.

Success was about caring – about everyone. “Every encounter with the brand must be as extraordinary as the machine itself,” said Cannon. With no rule book to follow, Cannon organized a grassroots effort centering on kindness.

It caught on. Random acts of kindness took place:

  • A dealer closed a sale and noticed that it was the customer’s birthday. When the customer came to pick up the car, there was a simultaneous birthday celebration.
  • Another customer had a flat tire on the way to her son’s graduation. She drove into a Mercedes dealership but discovered there were no replacement tires in stock. The service manager jacked up a new car in the showroom, removed the tire, and sent the mom on her way to the graduation.

Harry Hynekamp of Mercedes Benz – who became the first general manager for customer experience – took it further. Realizing that pride in the brand was not as strong as first thought, he knew he had to act when he discovered nearly 70% of front-line employees never even drove one of the cars off the lot.

He changed that by creating a program so that employees could experience the thrill of driving a Mercedes. He put 800 cars in the field, and employees chose their time with the car to correspond with important events in their lives, like weddings or picking up family members.

Reactions were out of this world, Hynekamp said. People had gained a sense of pride in their work.

Taking time to really show we care about others – how they’re feeling, what’s important to them, how their needs can best be met – can transform all of us.

Leaders, Show Your Kindness & Empathy

There’s no secret formula for kindness. There are myriad ways to show it and experience it. Everyone can be kind.

“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
– Teddy Roosevelt

As a leader, get back to the basics of kindness by taking just a few steps:

  • Sincerely ask “Are you okay?” Show a willingness to help, provide comfort, and look for signs of distress.
  • Answer “I hear you.” And when someone talks, really listen. Listen for what their needs might be rather than how you would solve their
  • Seek to understand, “What can we do to help?” Offering a helping hand can make a difference in anyone’s day.
  • Declare, “I’m here for you.” Be there for your employees – with true empathy.
  • Say “thank you”– and mean it.

By the way, it’s probably obvious but nonetheless so important that I’ll say it anyway:  when we’re engaging with anyone, being present is key. Our undivided attention (think: no side glances towards that phone, listening with half an ear, etc.) can, in itself, be an act of kindness. And, often, it’s the presence piece that can be the most challenging.

How About Starting Off the New Year With a Kindness Resolution?

And while it is indeed so important to be kind to others, we must always remember that being kind starts with ourselves.  We can’t give from an empty well.

Here’s an article on the importance of self-compassion and why it matters to every leader.

“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” – Amelia Earhart

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Emotional Intelligence

The Hidden and Sometimes Scary Key to Impactful Leadership…Our Feelings

“To master your emotions is not to suppress them.
It is to process them with diligence and express them with intelligence.”- Kam Taj

In my 15 or so years working with leaders, there is one topic that has stood out as The One to go gently on: Feelings.

Expressing emotions in the business world is (still) oftentimes viewed as useless and inappropriate. After all, people are hired to get the job done, not to feel, right?

And in the case where some feelings, like enthusiasm, passion and inspiration might occasionally be acceptable, any feeling such as sadness, fear or anger indicating an unmet need erroneously seems to signify an irrational, unstable or weak person.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth: our emotions can play a pivotal role in leadership, even guiding the decision-making process. Think of emotions as a compass that can guide our choices.

Do you believe that disagreeable emotions have no place in leadership? Think again. Consider fear – this instinctual response can alert us to danger…and even help to protect us. Emotions are information about what might be missing for us. That’s powerful, isn’t it?

Enter Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EQ) – is the ability to perceive, manage, express, and understand one’s own emotions as well as others. The benefits of EQ can positively impact everything from everyday workplace productivity to the entire culture of an organization.

In fact, according to Oxford Leadership, developing our emotional intelligence not only makes us better leaders, it can be attributed to:

  • 58% of job performance
  • 90% of top performers
  • an additional $29,000 in compensation annually

Leading With Your Heart or Your Head?

Use Both. A clear example of using emotional intelligence as a strategic tool is revealed in a powerful book, “Leading with Feeling: Nine Strategies of Emotionally Intelligent Leadership,” by Dr. Cary Cherniss and Dr. Cornelia W. Roche.

They cite the story of Tom, a young, successful engineer in a large steel company who suddenly finds himself a manager. At a meeting with a major auto manufacturer firm his firm supplied, Tom was bluntly told he and his team were lousy at just about everything they did.

For Tom, it was like having the rug pulled out from underneath. Now what, he thought?

Instead of immediately reacting, he took the time to listen to their lengthy list of complaints. Then Tom spoke from a place of contained emotions, telling his critics: “I wouldn’t blame you if you fired us as a supplier. But if you give us a chance to fix the problems, I guarantee you that we will not have this kind of meeting next year.”

Tom met with his team, asking for their explanation for the poor performances. He refrained from lashing out, from berating anyone.

Take the Time to Listen

Instead, Tom took the time to understand his team, to ask questions and listen to their answers. He then asked: “What can we do to remedy the problem?”

What was a profound outcome of Tom’s response to the many criticisms thrown his way?

His team had a clear realization that Tom cared.

The next year, at a meeting with the formerly disgruntled company, he heard the best news of his career – they had never witnessed such a turnaround in business in just a year.

How did Tom do it?

He effectively used his emotional intelligence: he perceived and understood his own emotions, how to use them to his benefit and he was able to tap into the emotions of those around him.

To become the best version of ourselves and to achieve the best possible results, every leader can (and should) develop emotional intelligence. This is how we can build teams that believe – and trust – in us.

“It is very important to understand that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head–it is the unique intersection of both.” – David Caruso

What are the Characteristics of Emotional Intelligence?

The School of Life lists 26 ways to determine how emotionally mature we are. Among them are:

  • Understanding the enormous influence of so-called ‘small’ things on mood: bed-times, blood sugar and alcohol levels, degrees of background stress etc.
  • Learning that what is in our head can’t automatically be understood by other people.
  • Realizing that most of the bad behavior of other people really comes down to fear and anxiety.

We know that the most impactful leaders are emotionally intelligent – and people are naturally drawn to them.

They are not impulsive or quick to act and think before they speak, much like the example of Tom, the successful engineer in the example above.

An impulsive, non-emotionally intelligent person finding themselves in a situation like Tom’s would most likely behave in a defensive, blaming manner. Such reactions most often result in undesirable outcomes like tense relationships, information hoarding, and victim stances toward growth.

Increasing Your Emotional Intelligence

Abhi Golhar writes in Inc., stating that statistical data has proven that employees with high levels of emotional intelligence see profound increases in productivity and sales.

Can we learn to be emotionally intelligent? Absolutely.

Some highlights from Golhar’s suggestions:

  • Develop an assertive – not aggressive – style of communication.
  • Mindfully respond instead of reacting to situations.
  • Listen more. (This is a key trait for every leader to develop, read more here…)
  • Cultivate a positive, can-do attitude.
  • Show empathy to those around you. (Here are simple strategies to try in this article.)

Practicing Self-Awareness or Self-Reflection is a Solid Foundation to Developing Emotional Intelligence.

Today, get on the metaphorical balcony to observe your emotions. And, rather than labelling them as “good” or “bad,” see them, as the Center for Nonviolent Communication does, simply as emotions when your needs are satisfied and emotions when your needs are not satisfied.

Understanding the source of your own emotions more deeply, cultivating a knack for appropriately expressing them – and being able to hold the space for others to do the same – is where your leadership genius can take root.

“Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings or squander an unreasonable of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behavior.” – Brene Brown

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needs

Every leader has needs: How are yours being met?

With the chaos of the world and the busy-ness of our daily lives, it can be easy to dismiss the thing most essential to our wellbeing, our progress and our impact. Yet doing so can have disastrous consequences.

A look at the Iceberg Model can confirm why this is so:

Iceberg Model

 

 

In this Model, we see that our behavior is only a part of what makes us up and is driven by everything under the “waterline”, otherwise known as our mindset. Our mindset is made up our thoughts, emotions, values, priorities, beliefs – and needs.

In fact, it is the way in which we interpret our needs as being met (by ourselves or by something or someone outside us) that creates a chain reaction up the iceberg to behavior which works for us – or behavior which undermines us. We get to choose.

To be able to make the best choice here, paying attention to our needs pays as they are at the root of all of our behavior and the results that we are able to achieve.

According to the Center for Nonviolent Communication, here are some needs we all have at one time or another:

CONNECTION
acceptance
affection
appreciation
belonging
cooperation
communication
closeness
community
companionship
compassion
consideration
consistency
empathy
inclusion
intimacy
love
mutuality
nurturing
respect/self-respect
CONNECTION continued
safety
security
stability
support
to know and be known
to see and be seen
to understand and
be understood
trust
warmthPHYSICAL WELL-BEING
air
food
movement/exercise
rest/sleep
sexual expression
safety
shelter
touch
water
HONESTY
authenticity
integrity
presencePLAY
joy
humor

PEACE
beauty
communion
ease
equality
harmony
inspiration
order

AUTONOMY
choice
freedom
independence
space
spontaneity

MEANING
awareness
celebration of life
challenge
clarity
competence
consciousness
contribution
creativity
discovery
efficacy
effectiveness
growth
hope
learning
mourning
participation
purpose
self-expression
stimulation
to matter
understanding

(c) 2005 by Center for Nonviolent Communication
Website: www.cnvc.org
Email: cnvc@cnvc.org
Phone: +1.505-244-4041

But it’s not just paying attention to what our needs are, it’s also paying attention to how we get them met.  If, for example, we know that self-esteem is an area that needs our attention, focusing on something or someone outside of us (a promotion or a boss) to give us that validation will only set us up for limiting results.

But when we can learn to give ourselves that affirmation – with any external kudos being the icing on the cake but not the whole cake– then we are planting some important seeds to liberating results.

It’s super simple, but it’s true:

Identifying our needs + doing our best to meet them ourselves = the best possible results.

Empathy: A Must-Have Trait for Every Leader

Once we have that practice of meeting our own needs down, we become even more inspirational leaders by helping others to identify and meet their own needs.

“Leadership must first and foremost meet the needs of others.” – Robert K. Greenleaf, Founder of the Servant Leadership Movement

Symbolically speaking, we are all, after all, made up of an iceberg:

The Iceberg in Relationships

Iceberg in Relationships

Image Credit: Mirko Kobiela

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, the more we bring every person’s needs to the forefront, the more we can each feel free to be who we are, creating deeper connection among us, which leads to greater productivity and impact.

Prioritizing everyone’s needs might look like this:

  • The leader role modeling by putting his/her needs out there, even and especially when they might be exposing a vulnerability
  • Setting up Team Agreements (ways we want to be together when working) that all co-create and agree together
  • Regular team check-ins to see how we’re doing on these agreements: any changes needed?
  • Frequent team building/fun exercises and events to continue strengthening the bonds of the team

Creating a workplace where employees enjoy coming to work each day means happier employees – and higher productivity. More than this, the September 2021 McKinsey Quarterly article Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours tells us that more than a mere wish, the current war for talent is literally driving workplaces to become full of more meaning and care.

When leaders inspire, respect, and listen to their employees, it creates a win-win situation.

John Eades, writing in Inc., sums it up:

“When you show genuine care for your employees’ needs, as opposed to an obsession with the bottom line, you will enjoy better retention rates and productivity as everyone buys into the company culture.”

The benefits of genuinely caring about others has a ripple effect. As Eades writes, encouraging employees to succeed – to be the best they can be by first getting their own needs met– creates greater opportunities for growth.  By genuinely caring about employees – and listening to their suggestions or comments on matters that need improvement – a healthy, motivating atmosphere is created.

Employees who feel that they’re valued team members tend to put forth the extra effort in everything they do, and their positivity – and their constructiveness – radiates throughout the workplace.

But Wait…We Can’t Forget to Care for Ourselves

While most leaders would agree that considering the needs of others is crucial, it’s also vital that we do not overlook our own needs. Indeed – our needs must not be swept under the rug, disregarded as unimportant or insignificant.

After all, if our own needs aren’t being met, is it sensible to suggest that we put the needs of others above ourselves? Consider the old phrase, “You can’t give from an empty cup.”

Writing in Forbes, Lindy Brewster stresses the importance that everyone needs to feel safe and secure.

“Faulting leaders for needing the same security as their employees does everyone a disservice.”

It’s easily understood that when employees don’t feel secure or worthy in their workplace, they simply leave for better opportunities. It’s no different with leaders.  If their needs aren’t being met – and no one listens to their concerns – they’ll seek out other leadership roles.

When a company faces a critical time – and the pandemic has certainly created a decisive time for all businesses – if employees or leaders don’t have a strong empathetic relationship, where they feel valued, safe, and secure, then it sets the stage for all around failure.

Brewster mentions that getting support is key to success, and if you don’t find help within your own company, seek help outside, from mentors or trusted coaches.  They’ve probably been through a similar experience and can share how they persevered.

Lose the embarrassment or sense of shame about asking for help. Reaching out during a difficult time will help us respond more effectively when we’re faced with the next challenging situation.  And we all know there will be a next one.

“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands,
one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” Audrey Hepburn

Balancing Boundaries with Caring About Everyone

As with everything in life, there must be balance.

And while empathy is a valued trait in leadership, boundaries have their place as well.

Without boundaries, we are lost.  Much like a sign on the road indicates “no parking,” our personal boundaries tell others what is acceptable to us – and what is not.

How do you know when boundaries aren’t firmly in place? Psych Central highlights a few examples:

  • Excessive involvement in other’s lives
  • Trying to please people
  • Attempting to give advice and control others
  • Excessive talking
  • Working too much or taking on too many commitments

Admittedly, it’s easy to slip into some of these behaviors.

Boundaries can be tough things to keep in place, especially during times of heightened stress (and since 2020, we ALL can relate to that, right?). We want to be there for everyone, we feel guilty for saying no to friends or colleagues, and it’s difficult for many of us to ask for help.

But let’s get real: a lack of boundaries breeds an atmosphere of no respect, of frustration and overwhelm. It’s not fair to ourselves- or to those we lead.

“Compassionate people ask for what they need.
They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, the mean it.
They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”
-Brene Brown

Being a great leader requires a delicate balance of empathy and boundaries. These traits can only be developed when we realize that our own basic needs of feeling valued, secure, and worthy must be recognized as well. Once those needs are fulfilled, it provides rich soil for not only personal growth, but for helping others to achieve their greatness as well.

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Risk

Risk Taking for Leaders: Smart Strategy or Perilous Planning?

“If you’re going to grow, you’re going to have to do things that put you at Risk.”
-Ginni Rometty, former Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of IBM

Taking risks implies making decisions that pose potential threats.

Not acting can be risky, too. Especially in leadership.

Yet risk taking is not something many folks are generally comfortable with.

As Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winning psychologist stated, “For most people, the fear of losing $100 is more intense than the hope of gaining $150.”

Understood.

High achieving, impactful business leaders are willing to take risks – and often, their careers boast of big wins. If there were losses at times, those “failures” often provide a framework for valuable learning lessons.

So how do we successfully approach risk as leaders?

Begin With More Conscious Leadership

Knowing our personal “why” is key to our own personal – and professional – development. It’s surprising that many people go through the motions of each day (focusing on the “what” – and usually the “what” of other people, as they perceive it) without truly having an understanding of their own “why” behind what they’re doing.

When we know our unique ‘why,’ we’re better able to lead. Our teams will follow not just because we’re “the boss”, but because they want to out of sense of shared values and beliefs.

When you and your team are grounded in your ‘why’ and you’re working on the same page, challenges turn into opportunities, and gradually an attitude of courage develops in a leader – and risk taking becomes part of the agenda.

Bill George, writing in Forbes, explains leaders with courage take risks that often go against the norm of their organization. In other words, they’re not afraid to make bold moves in the name of their purpose and values. He says courage is “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear.”

Some leaders lack courage, George notes, because they’re too focused on numbers or reaching a particular mark or milestone. Leaders with courage forge ahead boldly – despite the risks. They are conscious of and grounded in their abilities, skills, and values.

Risk Taking: Is it For Every Leader?

Don Kurz, DEO of Omelet, a successful ad agency, says risk is a business strategy that ultimately is served by asking one question: will it enhance the brand and the value of the company?

Risk taking isn’t for everyone, he explains. While it can be a source of innovation, it can be a difficult step for startup companies. Without performing risk assessments, the unknown holds many back from stepping outside their comfort (or financial) zone.

A Harvard Business Review article notes that risk assessments are generally not conducted; a project is simply presented to managers with projections. The authors suggest a handful of assessments be done to fully understand the risks involved.

Risk Assessment Plays a Role

Srini Pillay in HBR offers a counterpoint, suggesting that risk assessment is based on other issues besides just financial ones, such as:

  • Understanding how our brains handle risk, whether unconscious or conscious. Studies reveal that impulsive, social, or aggressive people may be more likely to take risks.
  • Realizing risks can be a good and very fruitful experience. Contrary to what some people think, taking risks doesn’t carry negative or “scary” connotations.
  • What about failures, shortcomings, disappointments? Valuable lessons can be learned from them that often serve as a springboard to greater fulfillment later on.

How we bounce back from failure depends on our resiliency. Pillay uses specific tools to measure burnout and how it may affect resiliency.

His points are well taken: As much as each of us longs for a pre-pandemic world and hope for a return to a so-called normal, it cannot be. Just as people learned to live outside the box, so too, businesses need to look for more innovative and progressive business methods.

Risk assessments can provide the data needed and skills to be honed to overcome aversion to risk taking. Ultimately, it is up to each leader to calculate the risks … and make choices accordingly.

Authentic Leaders Navigate Stormy Seas

All the strategic characteristics of a great leader provide a firm base when it comes to taking risks:

  • Courage. Letting our authenticity shine, being willing to show vulnerability, takes courage. To take the road less traveled – even amidst self-doubt and nay-sayers – takes courage.
  • Vision. Focusing on our intentions, keeping true to ourselves, our inner values, who we are at our core. It’s all about being present now. Lead your team with intention, with acceptance, not with authority, know the impact of your words. Ensure you and your employees are co-creating the same “why,” the same purpose
  • Focus on the “we.” Not the “me.” Conscious leadership can be a foundation in cultivating conscious organizations.
  • Encourage feedback and LISTEN. This helps us see the “bigger picture” rather than just our own (often narrow) visions.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to risk taking.

For grounded leaders with vision, who share the same goals with their teams and are valued by their teams, risk taking can be a successful leadership strategy.

“Make the choices that make you nervous.
If you make the choice that’s the easy way out, that wasn’t the big vision or big choice to make.”
-Eileen Burbidge; Partner, Passion Capital

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