Guidance with Kindness

by May 3, 2019Blog0 comments

As our understanding of leadership evolves, we must constantly reflect back on yesterday. There was a time when being kind was a sign of weakness. Our current societal environment is filled with discontent, arguments, finger-pointing and people being rude. Imagine how successful a reality-TV show would be if everyone was nice. In fact, it seems that even news media encourage attracting guests that will passionately disagree, cut each other off from speaking and discourage a rational and thoughtful conversation. Differing viewpoints and respectful dialogue is important, but can it be done with kindness? Can leaders get the necessary production out of their teams using kindness and encouragement?

Image of Rowing

Leaders today need to be able to provide essential feedback, negotiate staff and organizational challenges, inspire productivity, understand their marketplace and ensure the continued quest toward mission and vision. Can those tasks be achieved without negativity and admonishment? Close your eyes and imagine a small boat with a team of rowers. Are you imagining them rowing together in unison making it toward their desired destination or a frantic and panicked group rowing without rhythm and purpose? How do you imagine the coxswain (the “coach” of the boat) getting the team to row together – yelling and using negativity or staying calm and being encouraging? 

Leaders today need to be able to provide essential feedback, negotiate staff and organizational challenges, inspire productivity, understand their marketplace and ensure the continued quest toward mission and vision. Can those tasks be achieved without negativity and admonishment? Close your eyes and imagine a small boat with a team of rowers. Are you imagining them rowing together in unison making it toward their desired destination or a frantic and panicked group rowing without rhythm and purpose? How do you imagine the coxswain (the “coach” of the boat) getting the team to row together – yelling and using negativity or staying calm and being encouraging?

Although leadership is important, the manner in which leaders interact is equally important. A team from the universities of Oxford and Bournemouth, commissioned by Kindness.org, reviewed and analyzed over 400 published papers to investigate the relationship between happiness and kindness. What they found is that humans – as documented by over 20 studies – feel better and are happier when they are kind and help others. 

There it is. No magic. No parlor tricks. You simply feel better and increase your own level of happiness when you help someone else in a meaningful way. 

That alone is a worthwhile reason to be helpful and kind; however, how does kindness, thoughtfulness and helpfulness help in the workplace? How do our team members react to their leader being kind and encouraging? Is it a sign of weakness? Can our teams be more productive if they are happy?

A study conducted by researchers from the University of Warwick concluded that “happiness made people around 12% more productive.” As Dr. Eugenio Proto from the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick said, “We have shown that happier subjects are more productive…This research will provide some guidance for management in all kinds of organizations, they should strive to make their workplaces emotionally healthy for their workforce.” 

Understanding the importance of using kindness and encouragement to help make our workplaces a little more friendly and much healthier is important. There are many ways we, as leaders, can work toward that end.

Recognition

Use every opportunity to recognize your team members successes. Research and employee polling reveal that the majority of employees site recognition of accomplishments as a major factor in workplace happiness. What is the most appropriate method of recognition? There is no one-size fits all method. As a leader you should know your team, focus on the ways that each member will be most impacted with recognition. When is the last time you told a team member how important they are to the organization without following up with a request or some “but” clause? Just show genuine appreciation. How often do you give team members a short-handwritten note highlighting an accomplishment? Develop a consistent agenda item in team meetings where you and other team members can recognize achievements. Create a program where team members can choose rewards and give them some ownership of the process. If you introduce a recognition program centered around customer service you will build your organization’s customer service initiative while also creating happier team members. Get creative and keep in mind that by showing gratitude and celebrating successes you will be building loyalty and inherently developing your team’s desire to achieve greatness.

Ask, Don’t Tell

As leaders we need to ensure the organization is achieving goals and doing so efficiently. There will inevitably be problems along the way. If we are going to utilize kindness to keep a happier and more productive workplace, those challenges need to be addressed in a kind and compassionate manner. One way to ensure we address challenges in a kind and thoughtful way is to start by asking about the situation. When we move to address a problem in a manner that assumes we know what happened, why it happened and what should have been done differently, we are setting up our team members to be defensive, hesitant and not interested in taking initiative in future projects. Instead, if we can start the dialogue by simply asking what happened and not making any assumptions, we will begin to encourage and develop a thoughtful approach to future decisions and convey respect and validation for our team. Use kindness and understanding to build confidence and encourage initiative. A happier, confident and encouraged team is a powerful team.

Trust

A growing body of research indicates that leaders who lead with kindness and a sincere approach elicit more trust from their team. When our teams trust us as leaders, we will have a stronger, more cooperative team willing to accept ideas and buy-in to organizational strategy. Ensuring that our teams feel safe in the workplace means our teams are constantly working with us and are willing to take initiative furthering our expected outcomes. They will also be more willing to accept new or “outside-the-box” ideas because of their built-in trust. Recognizing individual and team success, listening and refraining from making assumptions and building trust are great ways to use a kind and gentle approach to motivate and encourage your team. It is possible to use fear and pressure to motivate your team, be disliked and still be considered a good leader. It’s just that the odds are against it. According to research by Jack Zegner and Joseph Folkman, a study of 51,836 leaders, only 27 of them were rated in the bottom quartile in terms of likability and in the top quartile in terms of overall leadership effectiveness—in other words, the chances that a manager who is strongly disliked will be considered a good leader are only about one in 2,000. May the odds ever be in your favor. 

Photo by Robert Baker on Unsplash

Mark Hamilton
Mark Hamilton is a founding partner at Capatus and located in the New York office. He leads the Capatus' Global Nonprofit and Education practice. He is also an expert in the firm’s research, talent and advisory practice. Hamilton has worked with clients in Europe and North America for more than a decade delivering strategies, talent and leadership development programs to firms ranging from start-up to Fortune 100. Hamilton has worked extensively in various product and service categories including government, nonprofit, technology, and professional services. He also advises clients in other industries including commercial and industrial, retail, media and more. His comprehensive background provides a unique foundation for his skilled approach and focus toward Nonprofit Organizations, Leadership Development, Employee Branding and Value Proposition, Instructional Design, and Curriculum Development. Hamilton serves on several Nonprofit Boards, strategic steering committees and volunteers for a variety of human service and government organizations. Hamilton earned an MST from the State University of New York at Potsdam, received his New York State School Building Leader certificate, holds a C3P certification and has completed the Executive Director Education Program through Rutgers University.
Mark Hamilton

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