Learning how to run the world
In the 1st century BC, Publilius Syrus said,
“You can accomplish by kindness what you cannot by force.”
An insight that should have become a self-evident truth over the last 20 centuries, and yet it is still as startling in its honesty today as I am sure it was back then.
Ultimately the people who truly run the world, do so through countless acts of kindness.
Recently I was reminded of a situation I had to manage a few years back with a dysfunctional team. Comprised of 15 people the team was a classic example of invisible toxicity.
On the surface it appeared that all was well, members regularly professed a deep commitment to organisational purpose, but the statistics told a different story.
High levels of unplanned absenteeism, history of delivering work late and frequent turnover of new staff members.
Scratching beneath these statistics and it became clear that the team was riddled with cliques of in and out groups, ignorant influencers who were able to infect the dominant discourse with false consciousness and engagement and bullies who enforced toxic values and norms, promising punitive action for anyone who dared to go against them.
Setting up a team dynamics day, I toyed with a variety of different games and exercises that could help the team become more effective. But as I reflected on these options I realised that I would doing the organisation and the team members a disservice if I failed to act with courage, honesty and kindness.
So instead of team building exercises, I shared with the team my assessment of their performance, dynamics and current impact. The feedback wasn’t complementary. Critically I then created and held the space for them to be honest with one another, to call one another out, to hold one another accountable and to find a way to move past their insecurities, frustrations and fears.
Was this easy, no.
Was this exhausting, yes.
Did it require me to be vulnerable, yes.
Was this kind, absolutely.
Three months after three gruelling team dynamics days and a series of small group mentoring sessions, the proof was in the pudding. The statistics lined up but more importantly the blossoming relationships between individuals told the story of a team that trusted and supported one another through a thousand acts of kindness with the ultimate winners being the clients.
Fast forward three years to a wedding held over the weekend and to the smiling faces of the happy couple and their witnesses … three years most of these people distrusted one another, felt judged and hated by one another but by choosing the radical act of kindness, these individuals have become powerful colleagues and friends. An outcome even more surprising given the majority of the individuals no longer work together.
Kindness is not a philosophy, behaviour or trait that we have traditionally linked to the practice of leadership.
Instead for most of the late 20th century and the opening decades of the 21st century, we have tended to focus on the intelligences: emotional, technical and practical as the most critical tools in the leadership toolbox. Tools that are underpinned by the force of financial reward, social recognition and the promise of punitive economic action for non-compliance.
In doing so, we are failing to understand what the 21st century leadership mindset needs to be about: connection, collaboration and coordination. Critical approaches that will support leaders in this complex, continuously evolving and highly intersecting world, where everyone and everything is simultaneously connected and apart.
One of the key attributes and philosophies underpinning connection and collaboration is kindness.
“Remember there is no small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end” Scott Adam
Being kind requires intentional engagement, a consciousness that truly sees and hears others and seeks to understand their experience. Empathetic, dynamic and authentic, kindness is revolutionary: changing both the giver and receiver and impacting the culture and context around them.
When we act with kindness we do not pity or diminish. Kindness is not an act of charity, but rather a dynamic act that has the power to transform both the immediate moment and experience as well as the future.
- being prepared to provide constructive feedback to colleagues so that they might grow as individuals instead of talking about them behind their backs
- taking tough decisions that in the short-term are unpopular but in the long term protect, serve and nurture individuals (staff and/clients) and the organisation
- spending time to coach / mentor and advise colleagues and staff members so that they gain the skills they need to grow as professionals — even when it might be quicker and easier to do it yourself
- being prepared to listen to another’s pain, mistakes or failures without judgement and helping them find the answers and forgiveness / acceptance they are seeking externally within themselves
- allowing others to try things, without micro-managing, so that they learn the skills to manage tasks and relationships through challenges, pitfalls and opportunities.
Kindness should be the lens, all leaders use to filter their actions and thoughts, as this always ensures you start from a place of care, support and service.
As Richard Gere said, “Everyone responds to kindness.”
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