The Power of Kindness

Today, November 13th, is World Kindness Day. It’s an opportunity to celebrate Kindness and to reflect on the importance of kind actions in making our world a better place.

Almost every day of our lives, we hear or use, the adjective “kind” and the noun “Kindness”.

“How very kind!” we say. Or, “That was a real act of kindness.” Or, “He/she is so kind.”

Indeed, “kind” is among the top five hundred most frequently used words in the English language.

Acts of Kindness to the Fore

Over the last few months during the COVID-19 pandemic, acts of Kindness have featured prominently in the news. For several weeks on a Thursday night, communities around the UK gathered on their streets to clap in thanks to the NHS staff for their selfless service. We have seen countless examples of kind neighbours offering to do shopping for elderly people on their street. Worldwide, we have witnessed the kindness of Sikhs and their tradition of the Langar, bringing people of all faiths to their Gurdwaras and serving free food and drink. In India, we witnessed many organisations coming forward to distribute food packets to migrant labourers forced to trek back to their villages. So many people have gone the extra mile to show Kindness to others.

But, in the past, have you often thought that you should be emphasising Kindness as a key feature of your leadership at work? Or as a core organisational value? Probably not! Or at least not until the Coronavirus pandemic which has brought acts of Kindness very much to the fore.

A number of businesses around the world have demonstrated kindness at extraordinary levels. In March, Forbes magazine featured an article “50 Ways Companies Are Giving Back the Coronavirus Pandemic.”These included: Google and its COVID-19 fund, enabling all temporary staff to take sick leave if they have potential symptoms; Shine Distillery in Portland, which started making and giving away hand sanitizer; Adobe giving higher education customers of their Creative Cloud apps the opportunity to request temporary “at home” access for their students. PepsiCo in India committed thousands of Covid testing kits and millions of meals to support families impacted by the virus. The Hong Kong Broadband Network launched a campaign, “ToughTimesTogether” giving 10,000 free broadband connections for two years to disadvantaged households. The London-based fashion brand Burberry provided funding for the coronavirus vaccine as well as retooling its iconic Yorkshire factory to make surgical masks, non-surgical masks and gowns for use by medical staff and patients.

The Impact of Kindness at Work

Are these actions a temporary response to a worldwide crisis? I sincerely hope not. Kind actions are remembered: they have a “boomerang” effect: Kindness begets Kindness. Such acts create significant value. Kindness is attaining real recognition for the value it brings to individuals, organisations, communities and society at large.

In the book, Kindness in Leadership, I and nine colleagues obtained input from over 200 female and male leaders working in the public and private sectors. These worldwide leaders emphasised that kindness in leadership has a universal appeal and is characterised in organisations by a variety of kindness-based behaviours. These include:

  • accommodating personal issues;
  • treating others with respect;
  • caring and being responsive;
  • communicating with a personal touch;
  • sharing information transparently;
  • explaining logically and listening intently;
  • valuing the views of others;
  • counselling and mentoring;
  • and being inclusive as a leader.

The leaders we interviewed also subscribed to philosophies about kindness as core to the values of their organisation. These included beliefs that: people are central to the success of any organisation; equity and fairness are important ideals in enhancing employee confidence and loyalty; and that respect and care stimulate ownership and commitment.

"Women tend to carry out acts of Kindness that involve nurturing and bonding. Men’s Compassion and Kindness tends to be expressed through protecting and ensuring survival".

Emma Seppällä

Just a Soft and Feminine Characteristic?

“But isn’t kindness just a feminine characteristic?” some of our interviewees asked. It is, after all, a feminine word in many languages. Interestingly, we found that men tended to be of this view and to think that women are kinder than men. But women often thought that men are kinder than women! What Emma Seppällä at the Centre for Compassion Research and Education at Stanford University has found is that men and women are both capable of great kindness, but that they differ in how they express it. Women tend to carry out acts of Kindness that involve nurturing and bonding. Men’s Compassion and Kindness tends to be expressed through protecting and ensuring survival.

“But isn’t being kind at work a bit soft?” others have asked. We would respond, “Certainly not.”Kindness does not exist in a vacuum: it is possible to be strict and kind; analytical and kind; tough yet kind. Indeed, as frequently mentioned in our discussions on kindness, it is vital for the kind leader to be honest, forthright and clear: these are all underpinnings of kind behaviour. As a top manager in a UK Financial services company said to us last year, “Treating people with kindness does not mean shirking difficult messages – it is about approaching people with humility.”

A Commitment to Kindness

A short time ago, Jacinda Ardern was re-elected as Prime Minister of New Zealand with a resounding victory. In her initial tenure as Prime Minister, she has impressed the world with her compassion, especially during the Christchurch terrorist atrocity, the Whakaari volcano eruption and the Covid-19 pandemic. In her interview in the eBook by Geoff Blackwell, (I know this to be true) on kindness, empathy and strength, Jacinda Ardern consistently emphasises the importance of kindness, empathy and inclusivity in our fast-paced and digitised world. She also underlines the commitment and strength that kind leadership requires.

Like Jacinda Ardern, many of the leaders we have spoken with have a strong belief in the value of kindness as an underlying philosophy for our lives and work. Kindness as a philosophy guides us to be respectful to others, to show empathy and to be compassionate. The Golden Rule of “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you,” really matters.

The time is now ripe for us all to think more about the long-term value of Kindness and to put Kindness to the fore in our lives - at home, in our communities, in our workplaces, in our own countries and in our cooperation around the world. Kindness can change a life for the better. Being kind is a powerful mantra to guide us forward. 

Published: 11/02/2020