The other day my ten-year-old was pondering the future of her big sister, Shannon, who has graduated from college and is living and working away from home. Little Maggie wondered if Shannon would stay in Grand Rapids and buy a house there. I told her that houses are expensive, and Shannon would have to save for many years before she could buy one. Maggie’s answer? “Well, I’ll have a lemonade stand and give her the money to help out.”
I didn’t dampen Maggie’s enthusiasm by informing her of the microscopic nature of her gift. No act of kindness is meaningless. The interaction did make me think of times when I didn’t do something nice for another person, thinking it would be too little or too late. Have I stopped myself from expressing a kind word, thinking it might be inadequate to the situation? Or, when have I not taken the time to reach out, when it would have made someone’s day better?
What difference does simple kindness make to the quality of our leadership? Thoughtless, selfish leaders may be able to get the job done in the short run. However, they will not create the type of employee loyalty and sense of ownership that are the hallmarks of a resilient, successful organization.
Leaders can and should model generosity of spirit. How can we, as leaders, celebrate and evangelize thoughtfulness at work?
Look around. Tunnel vision abounds; people are maxed out with work and highly focused, and they often don’t notice what is going on with co-workers unless it directly impacts their work. Take time to notice the demeanor of your people. Then you’ll see where a touch of care might be most needed.
Be courteous. Pretty elementary stuff, but manners are incredibly important. In our rush to get things done, we can forget the basics. “Please” and “thanks” go a long way, especially when accompanied by a genuine smile.
Identify greatness. “That report was thorough and concise. Well done.” Specific feedback about what went well feeds the spirit and boosts morale. It also helps people replicate high performance, since they know the qualities and outcomes that made the difference.
Ask questions. Take a break from passing on sage advice, and ask a question or two. I love Michelle Price’s blog post called 12 Most Simple Acts of Kindness as a Leadership Tool. When you ask, “How are you?” make sure you really listen to the answer.
Organizations need people to work together effectively to accomplish goals, overcome problems and create lasting solutions. It is not always fun, and interpersonal friction can create noise that gets in the way. Counteract the ambient negativity with a daily routine of simple, thoughtful actions. Think big by doing small things. It only takes a few seconds each day to start a revolution of kindness.