Leader’s Challenge: Kill Em’ With Kindness

It’s alarming how emotionally charged I felt when a former manager made their own judgments about me being a type of person that I felt I wasn’t, even after several years after the fact. This manager came to the organization after I started. Within a month of knowing me, the manager had made judgments about my character. In my opinion, it was inaccurate and there was no way for me to change this manager’s perception. Our working relationship never improved and I left the organization pretty upset. I voiced my frustrations when I exited the company and had vented to several colleagues who felt like they were similarly treated.

It felt good in that moment to be upset, to take it out on those around me, and to blame that manager for what happened. However, as time passed, my wife asked me to reflect upon my feelings and to ask myself what purpose it served when I kept reacting negatively. I came to the realization that there really was no purpose for that negative reaction and it only served to make me feel crappy throughout the week, months and years. Clearly, I was being unkind to myself and to that manager in that situation.

Finding the way to true kindness

What can we change within ourselves to cultivate more kindness? There’s an author * who found that by doing three separate things together every day, you will find what true kindness is:

  1. Withholding being negative in what we say or do to others
  2. Eliminating negativity in our thoughts (i.e. finding things to praise, being positive and affirming)
  3. Doing an act of generosity or kindness to someone

To test this theory, the author selected more than 700 people to take on a 30-day kindness challenge. The people in this study had to pick someone in their life that they wanted to have a better relationship with and were given a survey to determine the health of that particular relationship. During the 30-day period, they practiced the three daily things that make up kindness. By the end of the challenge, 89% of those 700 relationships had improved.

With results this profound, why don’t people strive to incorporate kindness in their life on a regular basis? It’s simple: we are human and it may not come naturally to everybody. In a situation where someone provokes us, it is human nature to react with either “fight” or “flight”. With “flight”, we run from the problem and sweep the issue under the rug and (maybe) deal with it later. This can turn out to be quite unkind to ourselves as the problem will come back to haunt us sooner or later. With “fight”, we stand our ground and tell or show that person how we feel. This is usually done in an unhealthy manner.  It feels good in the moment but rarely does it feel good later.

In most cases, we have the intention to want to be kind even though it doesn’t always work out that way. The problem is that most of us are unaware how often in a day that we are unkind in our thoughts and actions.

So how do we realize how often we are unkind?

You’ve heard of the saying “Practice makes Perfect,” right? Once you make a purposeful effort by doing the three things I mentioned above every single day, you will come to see how often you’re negative and unkind in situations with people and with yourself. It all starts with awareness.

To lead the charge on kindness, I started to take a purposeful effort to see how often I’m unkind. I realized that I’m unkind, on average, six times a day. I like to think that I’m a kind guy, but I am definitely not as kind as I would like to be. The one constant that glares at me is how often I get exasperated. And what I didn’t realize until now is that when I feel exasperated, I’m silently telling people, “you’re an idiot!”  It wasn’t until I realized that when I identified the person I intentionally want to be kind to, that all the negativity comes up and I recognize what I need to work on.

Can we still be competitive and strong while being kind?

Yes! It’s about how you do it. There’s a perception that kindness is a soft quality and not an important attribute in people. There’s a misconception that to be strong and competitive, you can’t be kind.

For example, when I felt wronged by my previous manager and did my exit interview, I was relentless with my feedback about this manager. I was passionate about how and what this manager should change. In hindsight, rather than taking a strong and competitive approach about what this manager did wrong, I should have delivered feedback that was constructive instead of negative. Rather than saying, “This manager doesn’t care for their team because the team’s efforts are not recognized,” I should have said, “I recognize this manager is extremely busy with all the mandates they have to juggle. People would really appreciate a bit of the manager’s time, even if it was a drive-by hello.” This eliminates negativity and provides feedback in kindness.

Is venting healthy?

You’ve probably heard that it’s healthy to vent to others rather than imploding inside and that it’s good for us to get it all out. However in recent years (according to the author), brain scientists have found that venting further activates the brain’s anger system and can actually make the situation worse. Whenever I went home and vented to my wife about my manager, I didn’t feel anything was resolved after. In fact, it made my blood boil even more knowing I had people who were on my side validating my thoughts and actions.

To attain true kindness, eliminating negativity altogether will help us begin to notice the positives about others. In fact, those positive aspects about someone we may view negatively were always there; we just didn’t notice them. My 30-day challenge had worked. Once I eliminated the negative thoughts about this manager, I noticed how effective their work was and how this manager identified and improved the deficiencies within the department. As a result, engagement scores improved.

But Jerry, it’s human nature to be unkind when there’s confrontation. My response to that is we tend to use “human nature” as an excuse to give us the right to be unkind. Our tendencies have wired us to be unkind; however, when we are aware and are purposeful with our effort to be kind, then we can change.

I encourage everyone to take on their own kindness challenge and incorporate kindness in your leadership repertoire (and even at home). You will experience a transformation in your relationships with people and more importantly, you will experience transformational change in you.

I know I did!




*Author credit:  Shaunti Feldhahn:  The Kindness Challenge (www.jointhekindnesschallenge.com)