November 08, 2016

Kindness as a Strength

Christine Ennew Provost

For much of my academic life, I have been based in a Business School, so I’m familiar with the many fads and fashions of popular management writing. Much of this is transient, some has a basis in systematic academic research but often the greatest impact seems to come from the careful presentation of anecdotal evidence. So it would be easy to dismiss some of the popular writing around more compassionate approaches to management, concepts of servant leadership and notions of kindness within organisations. But my own experience suggests that such a sweeping judgement would also be an unwise one.

Without under-estimating the importance of a work-life balance, we should recognise that most of us spend a large part of our life at work. Who we work for and what we do usually makes a significant contribution to our identity and our sense of self. And our experience in the workplace will have a real impact on our broader well-being. Leaders and managers play a key role in defining that workplace experience but we all contribute through our behaviours and our interactions. So, as we look forward to marking our “Respect at Warwick” day on 16th November, I wanted to reflect on the importance of kindness in organisations.

A typical definition of kindness (courtesy of the Oxford English Dictionary) is “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate”. Treating others with kindness and being treated with kindness during out working lives feels like a very reasonable expectation. And yet, all too often it doesn’t happen. Sometimes we just don’t think or reflect on how our behaviour impacts on others, sometimes we’re just too focused on ourselves and sometimes we worry that kindness in the workplace may not be a desirable quality – especially for a manager or a leader! That may reflect a significant mis-understanding. Kindness is not weakness; concern for the well-being of others is not weakness. Kind people can still be analytical and focused; kind people are perfectly capable of exercising tight control; kind people can still take difficult decisions. They simply do so in a way that respects individuals, is supportive, constructive and compassionate.

I’ve always been keen to avoid creating stereotypes around management and leadership - there is no single right type of leader of manager – we’re all different and we all have our unique qualities. But one thing I am convinced of is that for all of us there is a real benefit from exercising kindness in the workplace. Individually we’ll feel better, happier, engaged and more highly motivated. And when that happens, we’re likely to perform better – individually and collectively.

Listening to the radio is one of my great pleasures and early one morning a few years ago I woke to a programme which referenced a quote from Kurt Vonnegut. It’s a quote that has stuck with me. And it’s perfect as my closing thought for this blog:

"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind."
(From God Bless You, Mr Rosewater)

Christine Ennew Provost sig

Christine Ennew, Provost


- 11 comments by 5 or more people Not publicly viewable

[Skip to the latest comment]
  1. Brenda Jones

    This is one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever read in any blog thank you very much for expressing this as you have, kindness is in short supply in many areas, I hear people say it is weakness to show mercy and kindness, but in fact it is incredible, incredible strength. I love the hello babies quote, thank you. Brenda

    08 Nov 2016, 19:03

  2. Gerard Sharpling (Applied Linguistics)

    I agree with Brenda – what an inspiring and refreshing commentary – I am sure it is absolutely true that kindness creates a win-win situation for all. Many thanks for sharing this,

    08 Nov 2016, 22:08

  3. Execblog Resource

    Thank you both – I really appreciate getting the feedback. It’s nice to hear that these thoughts make sense to others.

    09 Nov 2016, 15:49

  4. Marie Barwick

    Great blog post. Being kind is reward in itself. Let’s share the word.

    15 Nov 2016, 09:05

  5. Helen Hargest

    I very much enjoyed reading this blog, especially as it has been written by one of the senior management team. I am not alone in recognising that the workplace has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, and not always for the better. Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect, and to show these attributes is not a sign of weakness, especially at work. In my experience kindness is part of being human and it is motivational to know that managers are human too! It makes for a far less stressful working environment.

    15 Nov 2016, 10:10

  6. Anthea Pablow

    It’s so refreshing to read this blog by Christine Ennew that’s not a sentimental approach but offers such a balanced view about kindness being alongside the ability to keep boundaries and to make difficult decisions. I believe that kindness rewards the giver as much as it does the recipient so winners all round in contrast to unhealthy power dynamics that can leave dissatisfaction in both parties. Thank you for choosing this theme in your blog.

    15 Nov 2016, 10:45

  7. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be recognised as a leader in the “kindness” league table in addition to the other ones that we are always worrying about.

    15 Nov 2016, 14:52

  8. Sarah Shalgosky

    At the time I left school, the Head of Woodwork also retired. He’d been there for years so was asked to address the whole school. He told us a story of being a young man in Kenya in the 1930s. He was on a long drive across the bush and his landrover ran out of petrol. He went to get the spare can from the back and realised that it had been left behind. So he started the 30 mile walk to the next community, very scared and worried he would not survive. After a couple of hours, another landrover appeared and the driver stopped and picked him up. They chatted and then in the community, the driver dropped him at the petrol supply station. Mr Bowles got a jerry can of petrol and then went to find transport. There was none. And there was no-one to help him. So he started to walk back across the bush. And suddenly, the man in his landrover came up behind him and stopped and offered him a lift back. The man said that he’d been thinking about the situation and he guessed that transport might not be available so he had come back to check. Mr Bowles said, how can I ever thank you? And the man said, it’s a good deed – pass it on. Mr Bowles advised us to do the same.

    Some 40 years later, I met a schoolfriend recently and we talked about this address; it had made such an impact on us. And we both said that we have spent the intervening decades, trying to live up to this story. Kindness is a very under-rated quality.

    15 Nov 2016, 18:55

  9. Chris Ennew

    Thanks to everyone for taking the time to comment. I love Sarah’s story – it really says it all! And to Marie, Helen and Anthea, I’m glad you liked the message and I think you’re right to highlight the way something as simple as kindness can make for a much beter workplace. And finally, I love the idea of a kindness league table – now wouldn’t that be a great project for someone!

    16 Nov 2016, 08:21

  10. Mairi Ann Cullen

    Thank you so much for having the courage to speak up for kindness to others as a quality that sits well with leadership and management roles. That quality can make all the difference between making someone’s working life a misery and transforming it into a place where we can each be fully human and therefore give of our best. If we can each of us follow your example and spread a little kindness, from the top to the bottom of the University hierarchy, we will all be making this a better place to work and to achieve together.

    17 Nov 2016, 10:10

  11. Chris Ennew

    Thanks Mairi Ann – I do appreciate your supportive views. And I would never claims it’s always easy, but I do agree with you that it can really make a difference! And in my 3 months here, I have met some many people who have been very kind, so I think there is a lot of it happening already!

    20 Nov 2016, 13:30

Add a comment

You are not allowed to comment on this entry as it has restricted commenting permissions.

November 2016

Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa Su
Oct |  Today  | Dec
   1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30            

Search this blog


Most recent comments

  • Hi Christine, Thank you for this, it is well–intentioned. I am particularly pleased to hear that the… by Alexander Corcos on this entry
  • Green week and there is a truck with it's engine running non stop by westwood campus to power the ve… by Maria MacCallum on this entry
  • As a member of our community, I would like to personally thank those who campaigned to support the U… by Alastair Smith on this entry
  • I cycle to work in the spring and summer. Are there any plans to light existing cycle ways so they a… by Tina Jones on this entry
  • Do you have any plans for more cycle routes so we can cycle safely to the University. Many Thanks an… by Maria MacCallum on this entry

Blog archive

Not signed in
Sign in

Powered by BlogBuilder