Kindness as a Strength
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