Over the years, my work has taken me on many deep dives into the dynamics of employment behaviours, effective team management and ultimately exploring why interpersonal relationships, particularly in an employment context can often fail in stressful, catastrophic and dramatic ways.
As a third party observer and professional advisor I am mainly only brought in at the catastrophic stage and in my many reflections on the situations I have dealt with I have reached the following, quite simple, conclusion. Encouraging kind, respectful and empathetic behaviours from all staff at every level, including the uppermost echelons of the business, is ultimately a powerful tool for ensuring well balanced, highly motivated, productive and profitable teams. I have seen directly, through my work as an employment lawyer and mediator, the result of unkind and disrespectful behaviour towards colleagues or team members and it is not pretty, for anyone - least of all for a business.
Failing to treat people with kindness and respect ultimately decreases staff motivation, resulting in high turnover, lost productivity, reduced profitability. In worst case scenarios it can result in the business making pay-outs or defending itself from court action.
As Harry Styles sings we need to “Treat people with kindness”
“Being Kind” does not take any extensive professional training nor does it require specific work or life experience. Contrary to popular belief - it is not a special talent -like being able to play the piano or paint - that is only found in the smiley, jolly folk. Even the most “professional”, “senior”, “important” or even introverted people in a business should easily be able to remember and apply (on a daily basis) the 10 simple rules of Kindness.
From a business perspective - insisting on an internal culture of mutual kindness and respect at every level and in every interaction - will help to reduce legal costs and settlement payouts. (Please note I do not say “might”. The “will” is emphasised on purpose). It will increase productivity and performance and (whether intentionally or not) creates an enjoyable and positive working environment, which is statistically proven to increase creativity, flexibility and build resilience in teams. All of which is good for business.
So - here is a quick cheat sheet on characteristics to identify in staff; to insist upon in leaders and incorporate into practical culture and values statements. (Values and culture statements, by the way, should be actively applied and stuck to - not simply framed for decorative effect).
I have also added some extra reading on each item, for those who really want to take the business of kindness seriously. Then I ask you to ask yourself this question - Why would I not behave this way towards others?
10 things that make Kind people excellent leaders (and profitable employees if that’s how you choose to categorise a person)
- Kind people listen to others. It is how they connect, understand and empathise (see number 3). Leaders who use active listening to understand the needs of their team will be better able to connect with them and thus motivate and inspire them. They will also encourage confident and open exchange of ideas and creativity which is always good for development and growth.
- Kind people are genuinely humble, because they are happy to put others' needs before theirs. Genuine humility in leadership is an essential characteristic, because it enables us to listen better and avoids disrespectful behaviours such as interrupting; or giving an “in my opinion” or putting someone down. Humility also enables us to show vulnerability and admit when we need to change course or just accept we are wrong.
- Kind people are empathetic. This means that they care genuinely about their colleagues and those around them. When someone calls in sick, an empathetic person will give a genuine “get well soon” response, rather than making someone feel they are a failure for catching a cold. Empathetic teams provide a supportive environment and a level of psychological safety for team members that facilitates better attendance, less sick leave (caused by stress and anxiety) and greater performance.
- Kind people are honest and trustworthy. A kind person will treat you fairly and behave with integrity and honesty simply because they do not want to let themselves and you down. Kind people tend to win people’s confidence (they are good listeners and empathetic) and people with integrity will not share confidential information or divulge your secrets, but will take positive steps to help resolve a concern. Additionally, honest people will deliver on promises made. This is an essential way to build loyalty and trust in a team, resulting in the team working to the benefit of everyone including the business, which is always a plus for business owners.
- Kind people give chances and are prepared to forgive . A kind person will accept that we all make mistakes (part of their humility and empathy) and will offer opportunities for someone to make necessary changes and improve themselves at least a couple of times. Creating an environment of reviewing actions, accepting where actions are wrong and accepting that changes can be made is essential to maintaining strong and supportive teams that grow and develop and improve as well as offering safe space to learn from mistakes. Encouraging apology and accepting that apology, when it is given genuinely and with reflection on what learning has been achieved is an excellent practice for all team members, and creates an environment of trust, support and growth culture.
- Kind people are fair and reasonable. Rihanna and Kanye once joined Paul McCartney in the ear worm song “Fourfive seconds”. One line that always resonate with me is “all of my kindness - mistaken for weakness”. Kindness is often seen as a weakness or a failing. However, truly kind and respectful people understand what is fair and reasonable and will explain their reason for a decision. A truly kind person will use the elements listed above (and below) to help a teammate understand why something they don’t necessarily agree with, or want to do - is fair and reasonable, usually referring to law, precedent or other fairly determined factor to help their team mate or colleague understand the reasoning behind a decision.
- Kind people are genuinely good humoured. Kindness goes hand in hand with good humour (there are your jolly, smiley folk again!). Good humour is a way of connecting with people and genuinely kind people want to make a human connection. It means giving praise when praise is due and acknowledging small and big actions alike with thanks and praise. Good humour does not mean making a joke at the expense of someone else, it does not mean having “in-jokes” that exclude, it does mean being able to laugh at your own failings and laugh off small incidents as being just that. It means creating an environment that is fun, pleasant and enjoyable for everyone.
- Kind people are patient and calm (usually). Because being genuinely kind involves listening, building empathy, being humble, forgiving, fair and reasonable and good humoured, it takes patience and inner calm to ensure that we treat people with their deserved kindness. Beware though. As already identified - genuinely kind people are not weak people and if their kindness is taken advantage of or mis-used they will be able to use fair reasoning to clearly explain to you (calmly) why their patience is about to run out. Because they are fair, reasonable and patient, a kind person will give you a warning that you are about to push your luck - but it’s best not to overstep the mark.
- Kind people are respectful. It goes with the territory that a kind person will be respectful towards all around them from the doorman to the student intern to the Chairman of the Board and everyone in between and in return they will gain the respect of others around them making them excellent leadership material. When leaders demonstrate respect in this way, their behaviour will tend to be mirrored by others creating an environment where respect and politeness is the norm. Interestingly, environments where respect, kindness, good humour (all of the above) are prevalent it becomes very easy to identify characters who may not want to, or know how to channel these characteristics and values. Food for thought, as, in making kindness, integrity, respect and good humour a “norm” in a business, negative behaviours will become far easier to quickly identify an deal with (fairly, reasonably, with patience, dignity, forgiveness etc - you get the idea!)
- Kind people practise what they preach. A kind person will actively put ito n practice all of the above characteristics, naturally, in every interaction they have. They will make it look like the easiest thing in the world to interact well with others. Maybe others will feel that it is something specific and special about that kind person, and that it is unachievable, it is not. It simply takes an awareness of the above principles and a genuine desire to put them into practice for self improvement and improvement of the interactions those around you have with you.
This may sound like utopia, I can just imagine people reading this and marvelling at my naivety. But think about that for a moment. We have become so used to workplaces being environments where people are treated without any of those characteristics outlined above, that it has become established as “professional behaviour”. Yet, every time I have been called in to do my work (remember - I get there when catastrophe has struck) and interacted with those involved, they are all kind, respectful, honest, good humoured people. Our working environments are requiring us to hang up our natural inclination to be good and kind to each other at the door - because we have been conditioned to believe that profitability and productivity do not have time for “niceties' '. That is a very costly mindset to have, so those who want to take the easy path to profitability and productive staff maybe just try treating people with kindness this week and see how it makes you and them feel.