“Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”
attributed to Plato but not really said by Plato
“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic.
It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.
The future is an inﬁnite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
“When you do things right, people won’t be sure that you have done anything at all.”
God (in Futurama)
I get a little concerned, on occasion, that in the business world kindness is considered a negative thing. Simplistically, there is a general impression that if you are kind, or nice, you are not tough — or tough enough to assume the more difficult responsibilities. At this attitude’s worst dimension it breeds a belief ‘assholes win’, therefore, ‘be an asshole.’
To be clear. There is a shitload of empty rhetoric of ‘playing nice’ and ‘team playing’, but that is from an overall organizational perspective not a management track perspective. For on a parallel track to the ‘be kind/play well’ is the “the toughest fighters are the leaders.” Note I said “parallel track.”
Now. Aspects of that latter point are true but it seems like everyone forgets to add onto that thought … “but that doesn’t mean you need to be so at the expense of kindness.” In other words, they shouldn’t be thought of as a “this or that” or “either/or.” Once again, in the business world, it seems like we are encouraged to believe in the completely fucked up thinking of “one thing and one thing only.”
When asked the question “What is the one most important attribute of a great manager?” near the top of the list: “ability to make the tough decision” <implication: you need to be tough above all>.
And while I could argue whether I am exactly right on what I am now going to share, the reality is that one of the most important attributes of a great manager is actually “ability to make the tough decision without losing sight of kindness.”
One attribute can actually be a combination of things and not just “one.” For some absurd reason we tend to believe that people will be torn between these two opposing forces. That we will naturally gravitate toward one or the other and, therefore, be battling what we believe is right rather than effectively doing the job.
Well. It is a battle when you are younger in business and is a battle worth fighting <even if you get it wrong on occasion>. Just as in military training the more experience I get the more likely I will win the battle the next time <assuming I survive>. The point is that if you make the bold choice to incorporate kindness from day one <which no one seems to be pragmatically encouraging young people to do so> by the time you become a real manager and leader it just becomes something you do without thinking about it.
Yeah. I did just use the world “bold.”
I did so because in today’s world everyday kindness, and done so consistently, is both a bold pioneering statement in a “eat the little fish” world. And, yet, this bold personal decision can offer some amazing rewards.
Several years ago I had to offer ’20 things about Me’ to a company and within it I shared this as my #1 thing:
– My grandfather
The greatest man I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. A simple kind man who honored integrity, kindness and truth above all. He taught me more about me, life and how to live Life <without overtly teaching> than anyone I have ever known. He remains my North Star for my life. I can only hope to be half the man he ever was … but at least he gave me something to aim for.
It was in that same piece I also shared his:
– Spike Lee
I was in my early 30’s in the audience when I heard Spike Lee say these words about his films … “I recognize everything I do impacts how people think … and even what they do … I have a responsibility every time I create anything.” It changed how I viewed what I did and actually how I did it moving forward. Basically … I began assuming responsibility.
So. What the heck does my white conservative non bombastic grandfather have to do with Spike Lee?
Deciding to be successful and be kind is a choice. And a big choice given the kind of shit they try and teach you far too often in business these days. Assuming responsibility for kindness, well, impacts everything. It is one of those ‘ripple affect’ type choices – with benefits in the present and in the future. Spike Lee reminded me ‘choice’ needs to be represented in the never-ending onslaught of ‘present moments’ and my grandfather reminded me of the ultimate reward for actually living that kind of Life.
By the way I am not suggesting “manufacturing kindnesss’ or ‘purposefully creating kindness.’ But I do tend to believe you can affect your kindness by consciously deciding that kindness can win an that kindness does not diminish effectiveness in business.
The truth is that Kindness wins if you simply believe it can get injected into discrete moments of now.
Uh oh. This means that kindness is driven not only by awareness but some common sense and clarity and there is no secret code other than making the choice.
No secret code.
Unfortunately, without a code I have to offer the unfortunate truth about kindness — you have to do something, or actually be consistently kind, to actually be kind. What I am talking about is make choices. Choose to be kind and act with kindness.
Yeah. You almost have to defiantly choose to choose to be kind.
As well as choose to live in defiance of all that is not kind.
Look. I am not suggesting you shouldn’t call someone a jackass if they truly are a jackass, or be harshly constructively critical if that is what will get through to someone or even make the hard call where people get pissed. Sometimes business demands you to portray some jerk-like qualities. It does so not because it encourages you to actually be a jerk, or a jack ass, but organizational inertia is incredibly difficult to address and, yes, sometimes you have to kick some ass to get everyone moving.
So maybe you need to selectively be a jack ass.
“Got to mind the delicate social nuances when you inform some poor fellow that he’s a dumb motherfucker.”
And, yet, you can be a jack ass without sacrificing kindness.
What I am suggesting is if you carry kindness with you and offer kindness as a thread of all that you do, well, kindness can win and does win. In other words you can still make the tough management decisions, the hard choices, be a little bit of a jack ass on occasion and, yet, in the end everyone will see that you did the right thing ‘well.’ in other words you can win the right way instead of just winning.
I will tell you one thing that I know for sure. While consistently incorporating kindness into your business Life may seem like a bold pioneering choice I would suggest that by doing so it offers some comfortable familiarity <we remember how nice it feels>. There is a small sense of satisfaction; let’s call it “added value”, in everything you do if kindness is injected into the decisions and behavior. It is almost like you have baked a cake and someone has placed your favorite icing on top when they give it to you.
If you do it right, no one really notices that you didn’t put the icing on the cake.
Anyway. Kindness does matter, even in business. And kindness can be done without costing you promotions, effectiveness and character. And isn’t that last thing the most important anyway?