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Posted by on Mar 2, 2012

Part Two: A Different Kind of EKG

In my last blog post, A Different Kind of EKG, I offered a leadership move I call EKG that combines three key practices – empathy, kindness and gratitude – as a way to devote more attention to the human side of change in your organization. These practices are effective at any time, but they have the potential for even greater impact when an organization, and the people in it, experience change. I appreciated the emails that readers sent me offering examples of how they had demonstrated the first practice, empathy, with great success. See? You’re changing the world already! Time to add on the next practice: kindness.

K= Kindness

“Kindness is free.” – Tom Peters

Some of the words that people use to describe kindness are grace, benevolence, generosity and compassion. Tom Peters also provides some examples of the power of kindness within healthcare, an environment that is all about demonstrating care and concern for others. You can read more about it here: http://www.tompeters.com/dispatches/011942.php. There are few work environments that are more closely linked to the importance of demonstrating caring and kindness, given the literal impact it can have on someone else’s well-being. In fact, stop and think a moment about your team and your colleagues in general. Given these common descriptors, would you describe these people as kind? If so, what are some examples of the things you see them doing and saying that make you think that about them? When you think of these things, notice how you feel physically. My hunch is that you feel a little less on edge just by thinking about these people and the way their kindness shows up each day.

Now, as a leader, turn this question toward yourself. Do you think your team and your colleagues would describe you as kind? If not, it may be that you’re not showing this side of yourself and your leadership style enough. It is common for busy leaders to get so engaged in the ‘real’ work they are called to do that they overlook opportunities to intentionally demonstrate care and kindness to the people around them. This doesn’t mean they are uncaring. In today’s fast-paced world, it likely just means they are busy. A busy calendar is no excuse, however. Leaders have to find a way to prioritize the human side of their ‘real’ work in order to foster engagement across their team and their organization overall.

If you watch the television show Undercover Boss you see some examples of ‘extreme caring’ every week. I’m not saying that you need to start handing out big bonuses, college funds, or extra vacation days, as terrific as those gestures are. I’m talking about simple expressions of genuine kindness that leaders can do every day. The only cost to you is the time and intention it takes to pay a compliment, offer an encouraging word, or perform a small task for someone without being asked to do so. Here are two examples for you to consider.

A little encouragement goes a long way. One of the hardest types of change for organizations involves the implementation of new systems. People are attached to the previous system (even if it was found lacking) and they are often flat-out resistant to the new system for fear that they will no longer be able to do what they used to do. As hard as it is to experience this as a user of the system, who do you suppose could use some encouragement during a scenario like this? The designated project manager and/or the department that is sponsoring the change! It takes about five minutes to send an encouraging email that acknowledges the effort being made and maybe, just maybe, your appreciation for that effort. You’d be surprised at how a small gesture of kind acknowledgement can make a big difference in the way the other person feels about the project they’ve been asked to implement. As Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Individual kindness fosters corporate kindness. Sometimes it only takes one person to role model kindness in a way that inspires others to follow suit. We see this all the time when natural disasters hit or a neighbor’s house burns down. Someone starts a fundraising drive, or a potluck parade, or within faith communities, a prayer chain. The next thing you know, a virtual army of compassionate people are united in response to the initial event. The same thing happens in workplaces all the time when a colleague experiences a loss or a health crisis, but leaders don’t have to wait for a crisis in order to start a wave of kindness.

Take time to think about the individuals you work with each day. Drawing on the empathy that I talked about in my previous post, what do you notice about those around you? Do they seem energized and upbeat, or a little worn out? Has your team been working full-out toward an ambitious deadline? If your environment is experiencing change, you may notice people acting a little more stressed than usual just because they are trying to adapt at the same time that they are trying to act. One leader can make a difference at times like this by looking for ways to ease the burden on others. Bring in cupcakes or some other treat if that works for your office’s culture. Institute no-meeting days so people will have one entire workday that is theirs to use as they see fit. You might even implement no-email zones in the evenings and weekends as a way to intentionally acknowledge and honor your team’s personal time. This is an idea that comes from Tony Schwartz’s book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, where he presents a compelling case about the four core needs that we frequently neglect in pursuit of performance. His book is full of practical ideas that leaders can use to demonstrate kindness and pay more attention to these core needs, resulting in greater performance outcomes over time, according to research.

The bottom line about kindness is that it is more than just a nice thing to extend to those around you. Kindness adds fuel to the important engine that drives organizational performance. Combined with empathy and gratitude – the next part of this EKG equation – kindness promotes goodwill at the same time that it fosters good work. What opportunity will you take to demonstrate kindness in the coming week? Write and tell me about it!

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