One of Forbes magazine’s ten most influential business gurus, Richard Branson began his new year blog on an unexpected topic: kindness. ‘Over the break, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can all make this a stand-out year of happiness and positivity, and one of the best ways I can think of doing this is through kindness.’ The Importance of Kindness.
Most of us are taught the golden rule as children, of treating others as we would like to be treated ourselves. It’s what creates peaceful, harmonious and mutually supportive communities. This seems straightforward enough, right? Apparently not. Branson reflects that kindness is on the wane, lost within the chaos of our busy daily lives, sidelined in favour of more appealing and immediate agendas.
We like Branson. Not just because he’s a good chap but because he’s given the world a string of useable philosophies while building his eight billion-dollar businesses. One of his mantras is that running a large business is similar to running a small one, and it’s equally possible to do it in a way that is responsive, kind and friendly to those around you. ‘Kindness is such an important characteristic … we should all work on being more friendly, generous and considerate,’ he says.
In his post, Branson challenges us to complete fifteen random acts of kindness within the next twelve months. He makes some suggestions - tell a joke, call a friend, give a compliment, leave a happy note, smile at a stranger. Hardly an arduous challenge. One and a quarter random acts of kindness each month should be easily achieved, right? Then again, if Branson is going to all this trouble to challenge us to be kinder, maybe it’s easier said than done?
He is not a lone voice in urging us towards greater kindness. Once you start looking, there’s a multitude of leaders, writers and influencers who would like us to make this vintage value new again. Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval made it to the top of the advertising industry by exemplifying their simple but powerful tenet that it pays to be nice. They believed, contrary to the outlook of many who surrounded them, that nice people finished first. They wrote about it in their book, ‘The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness’ and continue to campaign on the enormous impact of small gestures.
Seth Godin, who is best described as the ultimate entrepreneur for the Information Age, writes, ‘You've had a hard day, it's raining out, the world is changing, your boss is mean to you, the checking account is overdrawn, you're on deadline... But... Does every need have to be filled, every emotion in place before we're capable of being kind?’
Simon Sinek, a visionary thinker, motivational speaker and author says, ‘Kindness begets kindness, it's holding the door for someone, making a new pot of coffee, and letting someone into your lane. Putting others ahead of yourself - that is the practice of leadership.’
And within Australian shores, Hugh Mackay in his book The Good Life addresses the ultimate question: What makes life worth living? You guessed it, kindness figures highly. ‘We may aspire to lead a life animated by kindness and based on respect for others, but, for all kinds of reasons to do with our personalities, our temperaments and our circumstances, our life often falls short …’
Running a business could easily wipe the kindly smile off your face on some days. There are lows to be endured as well as euphoric highs. It can be hard to visualise let alone plan for a smooth road ahead. And on this roller-coaster ride you’re additionally responsible for bringing your team with you through every twist and turn, and guiding your customer experience as well.
What every leader and influencer appears to be saying is that kindness, at every stage of the game, is what makes all the difference to the journey - and the outcome.
Habitual kindness seeps through our interactions like warmth into our being on a summer’s day. It’s a strength, often underestimated and easily undervalued. As a code of behaviour, it’s less about leverage and more about nourishing relationships. Once you benchmark such a behaviour, it builds the kind of engagement that really makes your workplace stand out from the crowd.
Whichever guru or influencer you favour, we’ll wager they’d look kindly upon your following in their footsteps on this.